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Along with brushing and flossing, mouthwash is an important way to take care of your mouth, gums, and teeth.

If you’ve ever looked at the active ingredients in mouthwash, it might feel like you’re reading another language. 

On this page we will explain the different types of mouthwash, their uses, and what active ingredients to look for. We also make some recommendations on  the best types of antiseptic mouthwash.

Everything We Recommend

Best with Essential OilsListerine Antiseptic Mouthwash (ADA-Approved)

Best Alcohol-FreeTheraBreath Healthy Gums

Best for Mouth SoresColgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouthwash and Mouth Sore Rinse

Best for Gingivitis — Chlorhexidine or Paroex (alcohol-free), only available via prescription

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are two types of mouthwash, cosmetic mouthwash and therapeutic mouthwash.1

Cosmetic mouthwashes can temporarily reduce bad breath and leave a good taste in your mouth. But they don’t have any true medical benefits.

Therapeutic mouthwashes are known to help reduce or control:

  • Plaque
  • Gingivitis
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay

What Is Antiseptic Mouthwash Used For?

Antiseptic mouthwash attacks:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Spores

It is typically used to prevent infection after a dental procedure. It can also be used to reduce or control:

  • Gingivitis
  • Plaque
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth sores

Antiseptic mouthwashes are available via a prescription from your dentist or over the counter.

Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash

Antibacterial mouthwashes only target bacteria from an active infection, such as gingivitis. They reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth.

Antiseptic mouthwashes target bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores. They reduce the number of bacteria and other microbes in your mouth.

Antiseptic mouthwash can help stop and reduce plaque buildup and prevent infection. Antibacterial mouthwash is used when there is an active infection.

Ingredients to Look For

The best active ingredient in your mouthwash will depend on the condition you are treating. Your dentist can make the best mouthwash recommendation.

These common ingredients can be found in antiseptic mouthwashes:

  • Chlorhexidine controls and reduces plaque and gingivitis (only available via prescription)
  • Essential oils (Eucalyptol, Menthol, Methyl salicylate, Thymol, etc.) control and reduce plaque and gingivitis
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride helps reduce bad breath 
  • Sodium chloride helps prevent infection and promotes healing
  • Hydrogen peroxide reduces bacteria and whitens teeth

Prolonged use of chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium chloride may cause brown staining on your teeth, tongue, or dental restorations.

When to See a Dentist

If you have symptoms of:

  • Foul odor (bad breath/halitosis)
  • Gum pain
  • Heavy plaque buildup

You should make an appointment with your dentist right away. Also, visit your dentist for a regular checkup and cleaning every six months. You can ask them for a personalized recommendation at your appointment.

3 Best Antiseptic Mouthwashes

Listerine Freshburst Antiseptic Mouthwash

Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash (ADA-Approved)

Best with Essential Oils 

This product has received the ADA Seal of Approval. 

Active ingredients: Eucalyptol (eucalyptus oil), Menthol (mint oil), Methyl salicylate (wintergreen oil), and Thymol (thyme oil).

TheraBreath Healthy Gums Periodontist Formulated Oral Rinse

TheraBreath Healthy Gums

Best Alcohol-Free

This product does not have the ADA seal of approval.

Active ingredients: Cetylpyridinium chloride, an FDA approved antigingivitis/antiplaque agent. 2

Colgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouthwash for Mouth Sores

Colgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouthwash and Mouth Sore Rinse

Best for Mouth Sores

This product does not have the ADA seal of approval.

Active ingredient: Hydrogen peroxide, cleanses and promotes healing of minor oral wounds

Chlorhexidine (ADA-Approved) 

Chlorhexidine mouthwash is only available via prescription. There is also an alcohol free version called Paroex. 

This product does have the ADA seal of approval. 

Last updated on May 13, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on May 13, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Department of Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute. “Mouthrinse (Mouthwash).” American Dental Association, 1 Dec. 2021. 
  2. Food and Drug Administration. “Oral Health Care Drug Products for Overthe-Counter Human Use; Antigingivitis/ Antiplaque Drug Products; Establishment of a Monograph; Proposed Rules.” FDA.gov, Department of Health and Human Services Federal Register, 29 Mar. 2003. 
  3. Alshehri, Fahad Ali. “The Use of Mouthwash Containing Essential Oils (Listerine®) to Improve Oral Health: A Systematic Review.” ScienceDirect, The Saudi Dental Journal, 19 Dec. 2017. 
  4. Bescos, Raul, et al. “Effects of Chlorhexidine Mouthwash on the Oral Microbiome.” Nature Publishing Group, Scientific Reports, 24 Mar. 2020. 
  5. Herrera, David. “Chlorhexidine Mouthwash Reduces Plaque and Gingivitis.” Nature Publishing Group, Evidence-Based Dentistry, 12 Apr. 2013. 
  6. Hossainian, N, et al. “The Effects of Hydrogen Peroxide Mouthwashes on the Prevention of Plaque and Gingival Inflammation: a Systematic Review.” Wiley Online Library, International Journal of Dental Hygiene, 31 Jan. 2011. 
  7. Van Leeuwen, M.P.C., et al. “Essential Oils Compared to Chlorhexidine With Respect to Plaque and Parameters of Gingival Inflammation: A Systematic Review.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of Perioontology, 1 Feb. 2011.
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