Our patients often ask us about mouthwash and mouth rinses. They want to know if mouthwash kills bacteria.
The short answer is: Yes, antibacterial mouthwash kills bacteria. The SAME bacteria that causes gum disease.
However, bacteria serves many purposes in the mouth — especially when the good bacteria balances out the bad kind. Healthy gums are dependent on a healthy balance of bacteria. One underrated bacterial benefit is to allow a specific pathway of digestion to occur that is critical for health.
Not All Mouth Bacteria is Created Equal
When bacteria are killed indiscriminately, both harmful and good bacteria are killed, and the mouth’s delicate balance of bacteria goes haywire. This means that tooth decay and gum disease may be more likely to occur.
So, there are benefits of mouth bacteria! Specifically, some bacteria plays a unique role in creating a chemical pathway of certain foods.
Nitrates are naturally abundant in certain vegetables. They are converted into nitrites and then into nitric oxide and other nitrogen products during digestion. One end product, which is nitric oxide, has major benefits throughout the body. It reduces blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, improves athletic performance, and improves gum health, to name a few. Mouth bacteria play an important role in the path of creating nitric oxide.
The pathway goes like this: The foods that are high in natural nitrates are chewed up in our mouths and swallowed. Nitrates are absorbed in our stomach and upper small intestine. A large percentage of the absorbed nitrates get concentrated into our saliva. Once nitrates are in our saliva, the naturally occurring anaerobic bacteria on our tongues convert these nitrates into nitrites. Then we swallow.
Don’t Kill the Bacteria
So I tell my patients, if you kill the bacteria in your mouth and on your tongue with antiseptic mouthwash, salivary nitrates wouldn’t be converted into nitrites. With less nitrites in your system, you would produce less beneficial nitric oxide.
In a nutshell — Use mouthwash in moderation. Brush and floss regularly to maintain a clean mouth and teeth — and eat your veggies, specifically ones that are high in natural nitrates.