Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?

Clinical Content Reviewed by Byte Licensed DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Antiseptic Mouthwash
  2. Antibacterial Mouthwash
  3. Antimicrobial Mouthwash
  4. Additional Types of Mouthwash
  5. Best Mouthwash for Infected Gums
  6. Medicated Mouthwash

Both antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes can help to keep your mouth healthy when used as part of a full oral hygiene routine. Your particular dental needs can dictate which type of mouthwash will be ideal for you.

Talk to your dentist to understand which is best suited. Often, antibacterial mouthwashes are prescription-based.

The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that there are two main types of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Therapeutic mouthwashes have active ingredients that work to reduce or control conditions, such as gingivitis, tooth decay, plaque, and bad breath. Cosmetic mouthwashes only have the temporary benefit of tasting pleasant and the short-term reduction of bad breath.

Both antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes are therapeutic. Antiseptic mouthwash uses ingredients that help to prevent infections that can cause plaque buildup and gum disease (gingivitis). Antibacterial mouthwash targets specific bacteria in the mouth to help with an active infection like gingivitis by reducing the number of bacteria.

antiseptic vs antibacterial mouthwash

Antiseptic Mouthwash

Antiseptic mouthwashes can help to control plaque from building up by disrupting the bacterial load in your mouth.

Prescription antiseptic mouthwashes often contain chlorhexidine (CHX), which has antimicrobial effects and is often used to treat gingivitis.1 CHX can lead to tooth staining and disrupt the natural balance of your mouth, however. When prescribed, it is generally to be used on a short-term basis.

Additional antiseptic mouthwashes can contain the following active ingredients, which can help to control plaque buildup, gum disease, and also bad breath:

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Menthol

  • Eucalyptol

  • Sodium chloride

  • Fluoride

Here are some popular brands of antiseptic mouthwash:

Antibacterial Mouthwash

Antibacterial mouthwashes are like antibiotics in that they target specific bacteria and can be used when there is an active infection.2 They can help to keep plaque from building up and often contain active antibacterial ingredients, such as cetylpyridinium chloride.3

There are both over-the-counter and prescription-based antibacterial mouthwashes. Here are some examples:

Antimicrobial Mouthwash

An antimicrobial is a substance that destroys microorganisms like harmful bacteria (or mold) or halts their growth. 

Both antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes have antimicrobial properties, as they both work to kill or reduce problematic organisms in the mouth.

Additional Types of Mouthwash

When choosing a mouthwash, pick one that targets the specific issue you are trying to manage.

There are numerous types of mouthwashes out there aiming to do different things. In addition to antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes that can help to prevent, reduce, or control gum disease, tooth decay, bad breath, or plaque buildup, there are also mouthwashes designed for teeth whitening, reducing dry mouth, and breath freshening.

Check for the ADA Seal of Approval. Mouthwash should be used as part of an oral health routine that also includes brushing and flossing your teeth and regular dental checkups and professional cleanings.

When choosing a mouthwash, pick one that targets the specific issue you are trying to manage.

Best Mouthwash for Infected Gums

Those suffering with gum problems or gum disease (including early-stage gingivitis) should look for mouthwashes that are targeted for gum health. Different formulations use different ingredients, including cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine, and essential oils. 

These are some top-rated mouthwashes for gum health:

Medicated Mouthwash

When referring to medicated mouthwash, there are both prescription mouthwashes (which must be prescribed or provided by a doctor or dental professional) and specialized, therapeutic mouthwashes that are available to consumers to target certain conditions.

Prescription Medicated Mouthwashes

If needed, your dentist will recommend a prescription medicated mouthwash for certain oral health problems like gum disease or mouth sores. You can also ask your dentist about prescription mouthwash if you feel it would be helpful.

Common prescription medicated mouthwashes include the following:

  • Chlorhexidine: This is a popular mouth rinse used to treat gingivitis. 

  • Magic mouthwash: This is a pain-relieving mouthwash formula to ease the discomfort of mouth sores. It is often used by chemotherapy patients. 

  • Colgate Prevident Dental Rinse: This is a fluoride mouthwash designed to prevent cavities and decay for those who have trouble brushing. 

Non-Prescription Medicated Mouthwashes

Some mouthwashes offer a higher-strength or custom formula to treat certain conditions. These are also known as over-the-counter medicated mouthwashes and include the following:

Antiseptic & Antibacterial Mouthwash Frequently Asked Questions

Many of Listerine’s offerings are antiseptic, including their original Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash. Today, they do offer other products, including mouth rinses that are anti-cavity, alcohol free, whitening, and formulations that are designed to treat certain oral health problems, like mouth sores, gum problems, and bad breath.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.