What’s the Best Mouthwash for Bad Breath?

The best mouthwash for bad breath is actually no mouthwash. Read why mouthwash might be causing your bad breath instead of helping it.

Updated on


Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Q: What's the best mouthwash for bad breath?

A: Don’t be fooled by the happy people in Listerine commercials having a blast while they swish with mouthwash. It’s a myth that mouthwash cures bad breath.

In fact, the best mouthwash for bad breath is no mouthwash at all, for two main reasons:

Mouthwash causes bad breath by drying out the mouth.

Mouthwash is full of alcohol – up to 25% alcohol in some brands, which is more than beer! Alcohol dries out the mouth which exacerbates bad breath because saliva is what disorganizes bacteria in the mouth. Saliva maintains a healthy pH in the mouth and ensures that certain types of bacteria don’t propagate. This alcohol is known to cause painful reactions in the mouth as well in some people.

The population ratio of the good and bad bugs must be maintained (normal flora) and the pH inside the mouth is crucial for this state to be maintained. Chemical mouthwashes are indiscriminate in which bacteria they kill, adversely affecting this important ratio and allowing bad breath causing bacteria to proliferate.

Mouthwash can’t replace flossing.

The Listerine commercials, with their fancy visuals of waves of mouthwash magically scraping away plaque from tooth surfaces, will have you believe that all you need is a swig and a rinse of mouthwash to magically make plaque disappear. But bad breath isn’t cured by rinsing with mouthwash – in fact, it’s worsened by it!

If you want to get rid of bad breath, know that mouthwash never replaces flossing, or even brushing. The truth is that no liquid or amount of rinsing can remove plaque from tooth surfaces (and that plaque is what’s causing your bad breath). Plaque must be removed via a physical action – and that’s exactly the role of flossing and brushing.

Mouthwash ads will claim that their mouthwash “kills bacteria and bad breath chemically,” which is impossible. If the surfaces of your teeth and gums have plaque stuck to them, mouthwash won’t have any contact with the bacteria on teeth and gums, and you’ll be stuck with bad breath, no matter how minty your mouthwash might smell.

A few years ago, Listerine claimed that using their mouthwash the equivalent of flossing. These claims were quickly disputed by the dental community and the ad campaign was dropped after a lawsuit that found the ad to be false, misleading, and a public health risk.

Bad breath is caused by stinky bacteria (sulfur bonds), so if you floss and brush, you’ll be removing the bacteria that’s the root cause of the stink. This is why tongue scraping is so effective – it scrapes away the bacteria hiding on your tongue. Buy a tongue scraper from your local drugstore and scrape once a day – you’ll be amazed and what comes off your tongue and what a difference it makes.

To cure bad breath, ditch your mouthwash and instead, brush after meals and floss and tongue scrape at least once daily. Drink plenty of water to keep bacteria-regulating saliva in full force.

If bad breath persists even after following these recommendations, you should see your dentist or doctor because it could be an indication of a more serious medical condition.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: Foods to Eat—And Foods to Avoid—to Heal Cavities Naturally