To some people, the question “Do you brush your teeth or use mouthwash first?” is just as absurd as “Do you put your shoes on before your socks?”. It’s a debate that divides the masses. Some people swear by brushing first, while others insist that mouthwash should be the first step of their oral care routine.
The truth is that there’s no clear answer. Professionals have conflicting answers about where mouthwash falls into an oral care regimen. There are so many variables at play, and the ingredients in your toothpaste and mouthwash may work better if the products are used in a specific order.
Understanding the functions of brushing and using mouthwash may help you make an informed decision and pick a side in the debate. When you think of cleaning your mouth the same way you think of cleaning your house, the picture becomes a little clearer.
The Function of Flossing
Flossing is the dusting part of your oral care process.
Flossing eliminates everything hiding in the nooks and crannies of your mouth. Even if you can hardly see the illusion of a gap between your teeth, it’s still there. The repetitive motion of chewing forces small amounts of food into these gaps, and once it’s in, it’s hard to remove. Floss is the most efficient way to pull it out. Brushing will skim right over the top.
Flossing will loosen particles and debris without completely pulling them out of your mouth. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to start with flossing. Either brushing or using mouthwash will gather these particles and allow you to spit them out.
The Function of Brushing
Brushing your teeth is the scrubbing part of your oral care process.
The purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove bacteria, stains, and buildup from the surface of your teeth. Arguably, brushing your teeth is the most important function of your oral care routine. If you allow buildup to accumulate on the surface of your teeth for too long, you’re going to cause damage that may not be reversible.
The Function of Mouthwash
Mouthwash is the disinfecting part of your oral care process.
Mouthwash swishes around your mouth, killing bacteria and picking up any remnants that are floating around. Some mouthwashes contain ingredients that help to protect or remineralize the teeth. Many of them help with gum inflammation and include ingredients to soothe sore gums. Mouthwash is very important for your gums - you can’t exactly brush them without causing pain. Mouthwash uses light contact to heal and disinfect them.
The Housecleaning Analogy
If you’re seeking a logical order of operations for cleaning your mouth, use the house cleaning analogy.Flossing is dusting because it removes everything hidden in the cracks and the rafters. Brushing is scrubbing for reasons that are self explanatory. Mouthwashing is disinfecting.
If you’re ever cleaned a really dirty room, you know it’s best to dust first. If you dust a clean room, all the dust gets loose and settles on the floor the the furniture. You have to clean the room again to get rid of that dust. It only makes sense that dusting, or flossing, should be the first thing you do. If it isn’t, you’re only creating more work for yourself and undoing all the great things you’ve done.
Then, you’ll either disinfect or scrub first. Some people say it makes sense to disinfect and then scrub. Others feel that disinfecting is the last step of the cleaning process, finishing their clean surfaces. Which is better? Well, it depends.
The Case for Brushing First
Brushing your teeth will remove buildup from the surface, setting it loose into your mouth. Free floating debris is difficult to wash away. Just like scrubbing food stains off of your stove, you need to wash away what remains after you’ve scrubbed. The case for brushing first is that your mouthwash should complete the process of carrying the remnants off.
The Case for Mouthwash First
Mouthwash sanitizes your whole mouth and helps to break down stains or large swaths of buildup on your teeth. The case for using mouthwash first is that mouthwash is that most mouthwashes contain something called debriding agents. Debriding agents are ingredients that bubble up to loosen debris, making it easier to clean a surface.
The case for using mouthwash first is the same as the case for spot cleaning a surface or leaving a cleaning product on for a moment to help it break down the layer of dirt and grime.
What the Experts Say
Dentists don’t always agree about the order of operations. The only common thread is that the majority of dentists recommend flossing at the beginning of your oral care routine. Everything else is an open discussion in the court of public opinion - even for the experts.
Some will tell you to swish first, and others will tell you to brush first. A lot of the time, their opinion is influenced by products containing fluoride. If you use a fluoride toothpaste to remineralize your teeth, using mouthwash after you brush will wash away the fluoride before it has an opportunity to do work. For this reason, most dentists suggest using mouthwash first or waiting as long as 30 minutes after brushing your teeth to gargle.
Dentists that recommend fluoride will base all of their oral care suggestions around the use of fluoride products. They’ll want you to leave fluoridated products undisturbed for the longest period of time, whether the fluoride is in your toothpaste, mouthwash, or both. If you aren’t using products with fluoride, washing it away isn’t a problem. This puts us back at square one.
The best thing to do is to look at the equation when fluoride is completely removed. Dentists most concerned with preventing surface buildup on the teeth will tell you to use mouthwash first. Dentists who worry about bacteria lingering in the mouth after a good brushing will tell you to use mouthwash second.
The Case for Sandwiching Brushing in The Middle
If you use fluoride free dental care products, the best compromise is to use mouthwash, brush your teeth, and then swish with water to remove any remaining bacteria. You’ll experience the benefits of using mouthwash and brushing your teeth in the way they were intended, and a little bit of water will help you spit out anything that may have been left behind.
Another option that many people don’t even think to consider would be to begin your oral care routine with oil pulling. Swishing around a tablespoon of naturally antibacterial coconut oil will help to loosen up debris and draw bacteria out of your mouth. Oil is sticky, and it traps most of the debris that flossing may have knocked loose.
After you’re done oil pulling, you can brush your teeth and follow up with mouthwash. This is a comprehensive approach that adds another step to your dental care routine, but it isn’t wildly inconvenient.
The Case for Doing Things In Whatever Order Your Please
If you use products designed to protect your mouth and kill bacteria at every stage of your dental care routine, it won’t really matter whether you brush or use mouthwash first. If the bacteria sticking to your teeth and lurking on your tongue will continue to die long after you’ve brushed or used mouthwash, the end result is the same. Any bacteria that isn’t properly brushed away will be slowly dying, eventually winding up in a state where it can’t do you any harm.
Ingredients like nano silver continue to work to kill bacteria long after they’ve left your mouth. Tiny little silver particles with specially charged cores will steal thousands of electrons from the walls of bacteria, making them porous and functionally useless. After they’ve been significantly damaged, they’ll begin to soak up the rest of the silver.
They’ll take that silver to their bacteria buddies, leaking it out as they begin to die. They’ll kill all the other harmful bacteria on the way out. It’s a chain reaction that will continue until the nano silver safely and harmlessly passes through your system about 24 hours later.
If you’re using the right products, it doesn’t make a world of difference whether you prefer to use mouthwash or brush your teeth first. If you choose oral care products that work overtime to preserve the health of your mouth, all that matters is that you’re using them twice a day for an adequate amount of time. The rest is personal preference.
If your dentist has prescribed or recommended special products designed to help you manage severe plaque or gum disease, you should always listen to your dentist’s advice. He or she will tell you the right order in which to stack your products for them to work as intended. If you’re under medical care, it’s always best to do as you’re told.