Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?

Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?
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Antiseptic vs. Antibacterial Mouthwash: Which Should You Use?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Antiseptic Mouthwash
  2. Antibacterial Mouthwash
  3. Additional Types of Mouthwash
  4. References

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:

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.

General References

Mouthwash (Mouthrinse). (August 2019). American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

The 10 Best Mouthwashes to Clean and Protect Your Teeth and Gums. (March 2021). Women’s Health. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash. (2020). Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (J & JCI). Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Equate Spring Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash. (2021). Walmart. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Orajel for All Mouth Sores Antiseptic Rinse. (2021). Church & Dwight Co, Inc. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

ACT Total Care Anticavity Mouthwash. (2021). Walmart. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Colgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouthwash and Mouth Sore Rinse. (2021). Amazon. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Crest Pro-Health Intense Clean Mint Mouthwash. (2021). Procter & Gamble. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash. (2021). Amazon. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

TheraBreath Fresh Breath Dentist Formulated 24-Hour Oral Rinse. (2021). Amazon. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

CloSYS Sensitive Antimicrobial Mouthwash. (2021). Amazon. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Medical References

1 Current Uses of Chlorhexidine for Management of Oral Diseases: A Narrative Review. (December 2020). Journal of Dentistry. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

2 Overview of Antibacterial Drugs. (May 2020). Merck Manual. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

3 How to Select the Right Mouthwash. (February 2014). The Pharmaceutical Journal. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

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.

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