Can Using A Mouthwash Replace Flossing?

Dentists and hygienists are often challenged with answering this question. Can rinsing with Listerine or a similar product, completely substitute flossing?

Even though this question is not as stimulating, or entertaining as “what came first, the egg or the chicken?” question, there is still scientific debate around it. As with most controversial dental topics, there are two sides of the coin. There is research that supports mouthwash, and there is research that supports flossing.

Recently, there was a summit at the International Association for Dental Research (IADR), where two clinical trials demonstrated the effectiveness of rinsing. Their research showed that Listerine Antiseptic Mouthrinse is at least as good and effective, if not better, than flossing. These findings were in regards to improving overall gingival health and reducing plaque in patients. The highlight of the studies was that Listerine is particularly more effective in areas of the mouth where flossing devices find it hard to reach.

One key finding presented at the IADR annual meeting demonstrated that Listerine and flossing are clinically comparable in regards to controlling interproximal gingivitis. Both study groups had to rinse or floss twice a day. In addition, both groups were brushing their teeth twice a day. As a result, the use of antiseptic mouthwash achieved more or less the same effect on reducing plaque accumulation as regular flossing.

NOTE: The studies found that adding Listerine to a daily routine of dental hygiene is beneficial. The research team at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine & Dentistry did not claim that Listerine can completely replace regular flossing. The key findings of this research were that antiseptic mouthwash should be added to one’s oral health routine.


Why flossing is better

There are, of course, those who claim that rinsing cannot compare to flossing. A factual statement asserts that string flossing involves mechanical scraping, and mouth rinse does not. For this reason, products such as Listerine are only capable of softening the plaque. This process would still kill some microorganisms, but debris of the plaque will remain.

Proponents of flossing entertain the thought that only mechanical debridement has the ability to completely remove accumulated plaque. Mouthwash rinses may be able to kill the bacteria that reside on the surface of the plaque. However, it will have zero to no effect on the bacteria and microorganisms that live inside the dental plaque.

Scrubbing with a string floss completely decomposes the bacteria’s microcosm. This means that the little buggers need to start rebuilding their colony all over again. It is those colonies that cause the most damage to teeth and dental oral health as a whole.

Interestingly enough, in 2005 there was a legal court case that addressed the “mouthwash rinse vs flossing” question. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin found Listerine’s advertisement claiming that mouthwash was as effective as flossing to be false. As a result, advertising campaigns asserting that rinsing with Listerine is good enough to replace string floss were deemed misleading.

The main reason why people choose to rinse, rather than floss, is because it is easier. String flossing can be time-consuming. Also, some research has shown that only about 5 percent of people who floss, actually do it right. This is why there are so many studies that easily and readily discredit flossing.

For instance, not too many people know that they need to hook the floss like a “C” around the tooth. This is to ensure that all plaque is removed from hard to get spots.

Rinsing with mouthwash, on the other hand, is easy and simple. There is nothing that you can get wrong.

Clearly, there are dental health benefits to using an antiseptic mouthwash. But, our advice is, do not stop flossing. Instead, try and improve your oral health by rinsing with Listerine after you are done flossing.

You can try using your waterpick in order to substitute both those options. This is done by mixing Listerine and water within the reservoir of your water flosser. There are no studies to show the effectiveness of this method. But, there are many reviews online to suggest that people have been using this technique with success.

Author: Peter Mayhew

Peter is a dental hygienist in the city of Chicago, IL. In his free time he likes to write blogs and product reviews on anything dental health related.