Fact Checked

What's The Difference Between Fluoride and Non-Fluoride Mouthwash?

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

June 28, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

Fluoride mouthwashes do more than just keep your breath fresh. A great mouth rinse keeps your teeth strong and healthy. Mouthwashes supplement your oral hygiene routine. They also enable you to clean hard-to-reach spots and clean the tongue and gums.

Many dentists recommend that you brush your teeth twice a day with a good toothpaste and use fluoride mouth rinse as an extra measure of protection against cavities and tooth decay.

This article will cover the benefits of fluoride mouthwash, different types of mouthwashes, and when to use a fluoride rinse.

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Fluoride Mouthwash | Oral Health Benefits

Fluoride-rich mouthwashes offer many benefits. They usually come in flavors such as fresh mint for adults, and fun flavors such as bubble gum, watermelon, and berry flavors for children above the age of six. Here are a few of the benefits:

Restores tooth enamel

If you're looking to strengthen tooth enamel, one of the best ways to restore enamel is to use an anti-cavity fluoride mouthwash. Enamel protects your teeth against bacteria and infection. Over time, enamel can wear down and leave your teeth more vulnerable. By keeping your enamel barrier strong, you're less likely to struggle with oral health issues.

Prevents tooth decay and reduces cavities

Tooth decay is one of the leading causes of tooth loss. Using a fluoride rinse helps reduce cavities, prevent tooth decay, and gum inflammation. Fluoride helps remineralize and strengthen teeth.

Fluoride mouthwash has a small percentage of sodium fluoride. Sodium fluoride is a medication used to fight cavities, and make teeth more resistant to bacteria and acids. A dental professional can advise if an oral rinse with sodium fluoride is suitable for you.

Prevents gum disease

Gingivitis is one of the first stages of gum disease. If your gums are red, puffy, and inflamed, these are early signs of gum infection. If it's treated early it's usually reversible. A fluoride oral rinse helps clean and keep your gums healthy. Mouthwash also helps you reach areas your floss may have missed.

Kills bad breath germs

Every day our teeth are covered in good and bad bacteria. According to the National Institute of Health, the average human mouth is home to 700 microbes. It's normal. Unfortunately, if there's a buildup of the bad bacteria, it can lead to bad breath and oral health issues. Using a fluoride mouthwash helps kill bad breath germs and keep your breath fresh. A fresh mint mouth rinse can fight plaque and keep your pearly whites clean.

Promotes a strong oral hygiene routine

The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss daily. If you want to take your oral care routine to the next level, use a mouth rinse. Mouth rinses are great for killing bad bacteria, getting food particles out, and preventing cavities and gingivitis. A fluoride rinse should boost your oral health routine but never replace brushing and flossing.

Fluoride Mouthwash vs. Non-fluoride Mouthwash

What is fluoride mouth rinse?

A fluoride mouthwash (or mouth rinse) is an oral rinse that contains sodium fluoride. Fluoride is considered nature's cavity fighter. Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps prevent cavities, reverse early tooth decay, and strengthen enamel, making tooth enamel more resistant to acid attacks. This mineral is also found in drinking water and toothpaste.

Fluoride helps remineralize damaged or weakened enamel. Mouthwashes containing fluoride serve as a topical benefit and an extra measure of protection against bad bacteria that can lead to plaque and tartar buildup.

A fluoride mouth rinse can be used daily or weekly. According to the CDC, over-the-counter fluoride solutions usually have 0.05% sodium fluoride (230 ppm fluoride). Higher concentrations are available either by prescription or via in-office dental treatments. High concentration mouth rinses should be used more sparingly to prevent irritation or dry mouth.

What is non-fluoride mouthwash?

A non-fluoride mouthwash is a fluoride-free mouth rinse. These mouthwashes help freshen breath and may provide other soothing benefits.

However, this type of mouthwash does not offer the same anticavity fighting and germ-killing benefits since it does not contain fluoride. A non-fluoride mouthwash simply does not offer the same protection against dental decay. Someone may opt for this type of mouthwash if they're keeping an eye on their fluoride intake.

Water fluoridation

The CDC released a statement recognizing that the fluoridation of community water has helped prevent dental decay and is considered one of the top 10 greatest public achievements of the 20th century.

Over 170 million people in the United States benefit from water fluoridation. Studies have shown that the rate of tooth decay has been reduced by as much as 60 percent. Fluoridation is considered safe and has been practiced for the last 70 years. Drinking fluoridated water can help prevent the early stages of decay.

Drinking fluoridated water benefits communities from all walks of life and incomes. Fluoride is a natural mineral that can be found in rivers, lakes, and even some oceans. A small and safe amount of fluoride is added to local drinking water to provide extra oral protection.

Fluoride supplements

There are also fluoride supplements available in the form of liquids, drops, tablets, and lozenges. These supplements contain sodium fluoride as the active ingredient. They're great for children in areas where there's low water fluoridation or for people who have difficulty brushing their teeth due to decreased fine motor skills. Most supplements come in 1.0, 0.5, and 0.25 mg fluoride dosages. These supplements are prescribed by a dentist, orthodontist, or physician.

Types of mouthwash

There are many over-the-counter types of mouthwash designed to eliminate bad breath, kill germs, and promote fresh breath. According to The Pharmaceutical Journal, the primary purpose of a mouth wash is to complement your oral hygiene routine and prevent tooth decay. Mouthwash should never replace tooth brushing and flossing.

Here are some of the main types of mouthwashes.

Fluoride mouthwash

This type of mouthwash contains sodium fluoride. As mentioned, a fluoride mouthwash protects against cavities, bad breath germs, bacteria, and helps prevent tooth decay. Fluoride mouthwashes can be found at the drugstore. There are alcohol and alcohol-free varieties.

A dentist may also prescribe a mouthwash containing a higher percentage of fluoride or perform an in-office fluoride mouth rinse treatment.

Non-fluoride mouthwash

Non-fluoride mouthwash is fluoride-free and usually alcohol-free. Alcohol-free mouthwash helps preserve saliva production, reduce tooth sensitivity, and dry mouth. Many non-fluoride mouthwashes contain ingredients that are soothing to the gums, freshen breath, and whiten teeth.

However, they unfortunately do not clean your teeth as effectively as other mouthwashes. Many people will use fluoride and non-fluoride mouthwash and alternate between using the two since the fluoride-free varieties may be more gentle.

Antiseptic mouthwash

Antiseptic mouth wash may contain chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is a medication used to fight gingivitis and inflammation. It helps decrease the number of bacteria in your mouth. It's considered to be an antimicrobial class of drug.

There are prescription-only and over-the-counter antiseptic mouthwashes. They fight against bacteria, spores, and fungi. This type of mouth wash is great to use after an oral surgery or a dental procedure.

Antiseptic mouthwashes may contain anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis active ingredients such as eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol.

Prescription mouthwash

Prescription mouthwashes contain a higher percentage of fluoride, chlorhexidine, or other ingredients. These mouth rinses are commonly prescribed by a dentist, oral surgeon, or orthodontist.

The most common type of prescription mouthwash is a chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash, used to treat gingivitis. It's meant to be used short-term as the side effects may include tooth staining, altered taste, and an increase in tartar formation. Common brands include Periogard, Peridex, and Paroex.

Natural mouthwash

Natural mouthwashes have grown in popularity. These types of mouthwashes do not offer the same preventative benefits as antiseptic and fluoride mouthwashes. It's common for them to be fluoride-free, alcohol-free, and made of natural ingredients.

The ingredients are considered on the safer side and may not aggravate the teeth and gums if you're sensitive to more potent ingredients. Popular natural mouthwash flavors come in coconut, green tea, herbal mint, aloe vera, and activated charcoal.

When to use a fluoride mouthwash:

Here are some of the most common reasons someone may seek to use a fluoride mouthwash.

Braces

If you have braces, a great way to keep your teeth strong and get rid of hard-to-reach food particles is to use a fluoride mouthwash. Braces are tricky to clean and can increase your chances of getting cavities, especially since most braces need to be worn for two to six years. Sugars and acids can get stuck on the wires or brackets and cause oral health issues. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about using a fluoride mouth rinse.

Gum disease

If you struggle with gingivitis, a fluoride rinse can help tremendously. If gingivitis is not treated early, it can lead to more advanced gum disease. A gum infection can cause gum recession, inflammation, bleeding, and tooth sensitivity. A dentist may prescribe a fluoride mouthwash or treatment to help restore your gum health and enamel. Fluoride strengthens teeth and restores minerals that fight against cavities, plaque, and tartar.

Dry mouth

Did you know that saliva helps neutralize acid attacks and bad bacteria? In between tooth brushing your saliva works hard to digest the food you eat and keep your whole mouth clean. Saliva is made up of 99% water and the other 1% is digestive enzymes, uric acid, and proteins. Your saliva also naturally remineralizes your teeth since it contains calcium and other compounds that prevent infection.

Dry mouth can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption, certain medications, dehydration, and age. Low saliva production can cause halitosis and increase your chances of tooth decay and gingivitis. Using an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash with moisturizing benefits can help remineralize teeth and protect your pearly whites.

How to use a fluoride mouthwash:

Whether it's a prescription fluoride rinse or an over-the-counter mouthwash, always follow the instructions according to the product recommendations and use as directed. Dosage, frequency, and duration of swishing may vary by brand.

Read the ingredients before purchasing to ensure you are not allergic to any of the active ingredients. Continue your daily routine of brushing twice a day and flossing. Consider also investing in an electric toothbrush to minimize plaque and tartar. Adding in mouthwash will elevate your oral care routine.

You'll still want to visit the dentist regularly to have your teeth cleaned. Dental professionals can also provide fluoride protection recommendations. You may have to try different brands before you find the right mouthwash.

Safety Precautions

Be careful not to use too much mouth wash. While the goal is to keep your mouth clean, excessive usage can irritate your teeth and gums. Overusing mouthwash can lead to dry mouth, tooth discoloration, and allergies. Use the product as recommended and pay attention to how your mouth feels afterward.

When rinsing, supervise children and make sure they are not ingesting mouthwash. If excess mouthwash is accidentally swallowed and you start to feel ill side effects, call the poison control center hotline at 1-800-222-1222 or contact them online. Doing so can help you determine critical next steps and prevent expensive emergency room visits. You can also seek local medical help immediately.

Summary

Fluoride mouthwash is effective for reducing cavities, gingivitis, preventing tooth decay, and eliminates bad breath. There are many types of mouth washes available such as fluoride, non-fluoride, antiseptic, natural, and prescription. The type of mouthwash you need depends on your individual needs and personal care goals.

Fluoride is safe to use for strengthening teeth and remineralizing enamel. The fluoridation of community water also helps to protect teeth and prevent cavities. Since the introduction of water fluoridation, dental decay has greatly diminished in both children and adults.

Talk to your dentist to discuss the best fluoride protection treatments and products. Whether your goal is to have a whiter smile, banish gingivitis, or strengthen tooth enamel, a dental professional can help steer you in the right direction.