The 8 Best Mouthwashes for Gingivitis of 2020

Keep dental issues at bay with these top picks

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First Look

Best Overall: TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse at Amazon

"This formula does not contain alcohol, artificial colors, or flavors."

Best Budget: ACT Anticavity Fluoride at Amazon

"Contains the maximum strength of fluoride available in rinse form without a prescription."

Best Alcohol-Free: Listerine Zero Alcohol Mouthwash at walgreens.com

"A formula that won’t burn your mouth makes it a solid upgrade to a formula you’re likely used to."

Best Sensitive: CloSYS Original Unflavored Mouthwash for Sensitive Mouths at Amazon

"The CloSYS Original Mouthwash strips away harsh chemicals and dyes and only leaves you with the best: a formula designed for oral health care without all the filler ingredients."

Best for Dry Mouths: Colgate Hydris Dry Mouth Mouthwash at Amazon

"Relieves dry mouth for up to four hours."

Best for Canker Sores: CankAid Mouth Rinse at Amazon

"Provided instant relief and didn't cause a burning sensation."

Best Tasting: Listerine Ultraclean Oral Care Antiseptic Mouthwash, Fresh Citrus at Amazon

"This mouthwash tastes more like a dessert than an oral care product."

Best Whitening: Crest 3D White Brilliance Alcohol Free Whitening Mouthwash at Amazon

"This product has a guarantee of noticing a whiter smile after just seven days."

Too many people think that routine dental checkups can be put off. But oral health is about so much more than healthy teeth. Gum disease is one of the main causes of tooth loss in adults and has also been linked to heart disease and strokes. In that way, it’s just as important as going in for your annual checkups. 

According to Kami Hoss, D.D.S., M.S., CEO of The Super Dentists, gingivitis is extremely common, even if you visit the dentist regularly. “An estimated three out of four American adults have gingivitis,” he says. “Common causes of gingivitis are poor diet, improper oral hygiene, smoking, aging, certain medications, and systemic conditions such as diabetes or autoimmune disease. Gingivitis is also common during pregnancy.”

Looking to improve your dental health? First and foremost, Dr. Hoss recommends to work out a treatment plan with your dentist if you think you have gingivitis. He advises staying away from mouthwashes that contain alcohol, “since alcohol can change the balance of the oral microbiome and cause more harm than good in the long run.” 

"Some mouthwashes have antimicrobial ingredients, such as chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, and essential oils, that may temporarily reduce gingivitis by reducing the microbial load,” Dr. Hoss says, but adds that you should always mention the oral care products you use to your dentist. 

If you’re curious about what gingivitis mouthwashes are on the market, here are some chosen by Verywell Health that can help fight gingivitis and improve overall gum health.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse

A dentist who specializes in bad breath, taste disorders, tonsil stones, and dry mouth started this brand, so you can assume it’s good. In addition to fighting gingivitis and bad breath, this formula also helps fight periodontitis, which is a later stage gum disease that occurs when gingivitis is left untreated. 

This formula does not contain alcohol, artificial colors, or flavors. According to its label, TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse contains cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), an ingredient approved by the FDA and is “clinically proven to kill germs linked to gum disease and other periodontal problems.”

Best Budget: ACT Anticavity Fluoride

Reviewers love the clear formula that is free from chemical coloring dyes. This ACT Mouthwash contains the maximum strength of fluoride available in rinse form without a prescription. Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay. 

And since it's available at such a reasonable price, it’s a great budget option to add to your daily routine for overall oral health.

Best Alcohol-Free: Listerine Zero Alcohol Mouthwash

Listerine

If you’ve ever used a mouthwash before, chances are it was Listerine—because it’s been around since 1914. This is an updated formula from its classic antiseptic rinse that is made alcohol-free for comfort. 

This mouthwash helps fight gingivitis and halitosis (also known as bad breath). FDA-approved ingredients and a formula that won’t burn your mouth makes it a solid upgrade to a formula you’re likely used to.

Best Sensitive: CloSYS Original Unflavored Mouthwash for Sensitive Mouths

The CloSYS Original Mouthwash strips away harsh chemicals and dyes and only leaves you with the best: a formula designed for oral health care without all the filler ingredients. For this reason, this unflavored option is perfect for people with sensitive mouths. 

If you’re only looking for an alcohol, sulfate, and gluten-free formula but want the minty flavor you’re used to, you can actually add flavor as you wish with an optional mint flavor dropper that’s included. Its pH-balanced formula is gentle on your mouth and won’t burn as you swish it around. 

Best for Dry Mouths: Colgate Hydris Dry Mouth Mouthwash

Dry mouth is an uncomfortable condition that occurs when your salivary glands fail to produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. This can be hereditary or be caused by stress, medications, or smoking. Whatever the cause, this formula by Colgate can help hydrate your mouth in between brushing. According to the label, it relieves dry mouth for up to four hours. 

If you’re experiencing dry mouth, make sure to talk to your dentist about it. Reviewers noticed that this formula provides the relief they’ve been looking for and provides multiple hours of hydration.

Although gingivitis is caused by dry mouth, it is reversible. With the right care, you can heal your mouth from home.

Best for Canker Sores: CankAid Mouth Rinse

Gingivitis can cause gum irritation and if you have a canker sore, the pain can be almost unbearable. If you have a hard-to-reach canker sore (like in the back of your mouth between your gums and cheek) swishing with this rinse can help apply targeted relief. This formula contains concentrated powder that mixes with water to make up to 36 ounces of mouthwash, which makes it a great value for the price.

Reviewers loved that it provided instant relief and didn't cause a burning sensation.

Best Tasting: Listerine Ultraclean Oral Care Antiseptic Mouthwash, Fresh Citrus

Swishing for 30 seconds with a mouthwash can be annoying, but with this fresh citrus flavor, reviewers note that this mouthwash tastes more like a dessert than an oral care product. Using mouthwash daily can help prevent gum disease and gingivitis. This unique flavor can be hard to find on shelves, so stock up the next time you’re shopping online. It also boasts the clean feeling you can usually only get at the dentist, without an unpleasant aftertaste or lingering burning feeling. 

Many people who grew to love this flavor note that their dentist recommended this brand—especially to make daily use as easy and as enjoyable as possible. 

Best Whitening: Crest 3D White Brilliance Alcohol Free Whitening Mouthwash

This product has a guarantee of noticing a whiter smile after just seven days. This alcohol-free formula also excludes peroxide, so there’s no unnecessary foaming action—just high-quality ingredients that cleans your gums and whitens your smile at the same time. 

Fans of this product love the taste and the fact that it’s alcohol-free. With American Dental Association-approved ingredients and a fast-acting stain-removing power, this rinse is a great way to knock off multiple dental issues with one rinse. 

Final Verdict

Gingivitis can be a result of avoiding dental appointments. Dental procedures can be expensive—even if you have insurance—so it’s no wonder that Americans tend to avoid them at all costs. Getting into an oral care routine at home can help keep your mouth in its best shape even in between dental appointments. If you’re struggling to pay for dental care, there are a few options. Products like TheraBreath Healthy Gums Oral Rinse or  Listerine’s Zero Alcohol Mouthwash can help clean gums without causing even more irritation with harsh alcohol. The key is to get into a habit with your oral health routine. Try a mouthwash with a fun flavor to make it easier to stick to a routine.

What to Look for in Mouthwash for Gingivitis

Alcohol vs. Alcohol-Free: Mouthwashes with alcohol kill bacteria and fight bad breath, but they may not be the best option when you're looking to treat gingivitis. Opt for a gentle formula that's made specifically for gingivitis to avoid causing further irritation to your gums.

Condition-specific: If you're prone to canker sores, dry mouth, or sensitive teeth, look for a mouthwash that caters to that condition. If you're unsure of which product to choose from, talk to your dentist for recommendations on the best product to use.

Why Trust Verywell Health

As a health writer with over eight years of experience, Brittany Leitner understands how important access to information is when it comes to making educated health decisions. She has interviewed dozens of medical experts, tested out hundreds of products, and aims to provide quality recommendations that won't break the bank.

Which Mouthwash Is Best for You?

By Steven Lin, DDS

It’s probably the most common question dentists get: "Which mouthwash should I be using?" Or, "is this mouthwash good?"

The answer often depends on what your needs are. People look to mouthwash as a breath freshener or to stop bad breath, but mouthwash is also used to stop bleeding gums, tooth decay, and some are used for teeth whitening.

One big misconception is that mouthwash can remove plaque from your teeth and gums. Swishing a mouthwash may have antibacterial action, but won’t remove plaque itself, so it should never replace brushing and flossing.

Before using any mouthwash you should go through these steps:

  1. Determine the primary reason for using mouthwash. Is it to treat a condition or simply to prevent dental disease?
  2. Consult your dentist. You should first gain a diagnosis of your problem and get your doctor's recommendation before using a mouthwash.
  3. Read the label carefully: be judicious in understanding what is in the product.
  4. Follow the directions.

The health claims and benefits of mouthwash vary quite a bit, so let’s see which contains what and if they live up to their claims.

Mouthwashes With Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most common mouthwash ingredients. The thought is that alcohol kills bacteria that cause diseases in the mouth, but alcohol in mouthwash isn’t the active ingredient. Alcohol is present to help diffuse other active ingredients, like essential oils.

Most alcohol mouthwashes are used to freshen breath and fight bleeding gums or gum disease.

Bleeding gums and bad breath are due to the presence of certain types of bacteria in the mouth. The problem is that little is known about the specific mode of action alcohol has against them. Generally, it’s believed that alcohol destroys bacterial cell walls, but it’s not known whether it is effective against those that cause gum disease and bad breath.

Alcohol mouthwash has drawn widespread concern regarding alcoholic content being a risk factor for oral cancer. There is research to show that alcohol makes the mouth's cells more vulnerable to cancer-causing agents. When alcohol is broken down, the product is acetaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.

There can be temporary side effects of alcoholic mouthwash, such as:

  • Taste disturbances
  • Tooth staining
  • The sensation of a dry mouth
  • Worsening bad breath: Alcohol-containing mouthwashes may make dry mouth and halitosis worse since they dry the mouth out more. Soreness, ulcerations, and redness may sometimes occur.

Do your best to avoid alcoholic mouthwashes. They aren't particularly effective against gum disease or bad breath and may increase the risk of oral cancer.

Chlorhexidine Mouthwash

Chlorhexidine is an antibacterial used as an active ingredient in certain mouthwash brands. It is a broad spectrum antimicrobial with particular use against bacteria that cause gum disease.

Dentists do sometimes employ chlorhexidine mouthwash to treat patients with gum disease. Studies have shown it can reduce inflammation caused by periodontal bacteria.

One concern is that chlorhexidine may not be that effective against the particular bacteria known to cause bad breath.

Long-term use of chlorhexidine mouthwash is known to cause tooth and tongue swelling. It can also alter or decrease taste and cause dry mouth. In some patients, it can increase the build-up of dental tartar. This may be due to shifts in oral bacteria. It may also interact with toothpaste ingredients, so should always be used separately.

Some people experience rash or burning sensations, in which case use should be ceased immediately.

Chlorhexidine mouthwash may be helpful in treating gum disease, however, it is not effective for bad breath. It should always be used under guidance from your dental professional.

Fluoride Mouthwash

Many types of mouthwash contain fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.

Fluoride has been shown to be effective in preventing tooth decay, with five to 50 percent less dental decay. However, it should only be used in high-risk cases. 

Situations where fluoride rinses may be effective are:

  • For orthodontic patients: this is a good alternative (or supplement) to foam tray applications if you are having orthodontic treatment.
  • Moderate to high caries risk, including for elderly patients and early enamel caries
  • Partial dentures
  • Patients with xerostomia

It’s important that you don’t accidentally swallow fluoride-containing mouthwash, as it can be toxic. Fluoride mouthwash should be avoided in children under seven because the chance is too high that they will swallow it. The daily rinses are probably the most effective and contain about 0.05 percent fluoride. Weekly or fortnightly mouth rinses at 0.2 percent are also available.

Fluoride rinses probably only have a significant effect if you are at an increased risk of dental caries and certainly should not be used as a substitute for brushing with a fluoride toothpaste—you need to do both. Fluoride-containing mouthwash should only be used for patients with high-risk tooth decay. It should be taken under direction from your dental professional.

Hydrogen Peroxide Mouthwash

Hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient found in most household cleaning products. It has wide anti-microbial properties due to its oxidizing chemical action. Oxidation acts to damage and kill bacterial cells.

It has been proven safe at one to three percent concentrations. The problem is that people have very different reactions to hydrogen peroxide and safe use depends on proper dilution. Studies suggest that there may be a slight decrease in gum inflammation. There also may be a slight teeth whitening effect.

Hydrogen peroxide is known to cause damage to the cells of the dental pulp. It can cause the tooth nerves to become infected and eventually die (called pulpitis). Do your best to avoid hydrogen peroxide mouthwash. There doesn’t seem to be enough research on the benefits to balance the risks that hydrogen peroxide mouthwash has.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are extracted from plants that are known to have aromatic or healing properties. Some mouthwashes do have essential oils added to their ingredients. However, you can make your own by adding drops of essential oils to the water.

Essential oils contain the "essence of" the plant's fragrance—which is characteristic of the plant from which it is derived. Their properties include antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory actions. These healing oils are rapidly growing in popularity because they act as natural medicine without any side effects.

Generally, these mouthwashes are considered as safe as they are natural products. Some essential oils have been found to have particular antibacterial properties that may make them useful as a mouthwash. These include:

Essential oils mouthwash may be a good breath freshener. You shouldn’t solely rely on essential oil mouthwash ahead of oral hygiene practice, though.

Salt Water Mouthwash

Salt water is an isotonic solution, which means it contains the same salts and minerals as our body fluids and won’t irritate your gums.

Salt water is commonly used and recommended after dental extraction. The anti-bacterial properties seem to decrease dental infections and gum inflammation, as well as a dry socket. Warm salt water is known to help with sore throats and tonsils. It also can alleviate mouth sores or ulcers.

As it has a low pH, salt water may help to treat bad breath. Bacteria that cause bad breath require a high pH in the mouth in order to thrive. You can make a mixture at home by adding ½ a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water. You can do this two to three times and repeat up to four times a day. Salt water is a good DIY option for keeping your mouth feeling fresh and clean.

Other Considerations When Using Mouthwash

Other Ingredients: Most mouthwashes contain other chemicals that help to increase shelf life or give it a desirable color. You should read the label carefully to make sure you know all of the ingredients in the type you are using. If you have an adverse reaction it could be due to one of these substances.

Detergents: Water-soluble cleansing agent combines with impurities and dirt to make them more soluble. It’s stated that they loosen residue that has accumulated on teeth; however, this claim isn’t heavily supported. Common detergents are listed on labels as sodium benzoate and sodium lauryl sulfate. There are concerns about the safety of consuming these chemicals and some people do report adverse reactions.

Flavors: Artificial flavoring will give the mouthwash it’s color and taste. They don’t contribute to its action or effectiveness and may have adverse reactions.

Preservatives: These prevent the growth of bacteria in the mouthwash. Common preservatives are sodium benzoate or methylparaben. They don't contribute to the action of the mouthwash.

Water: Water is used to dissolve and carry the other ingredients.

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