Mouthwash is used for many different reasons. Most commonly it kills germs living in the mouth that can cause bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay. Various ingredients are used to achieve this effect. Some common mouthwash additives are alcohol, benzoic acid and menthol. Stabilized chlorine dioxide is another chemical compound that is used as a type of mouthwash, mainly because of its antibacterial effects.
Many mouthwashes depend on the use of fragrances and deodorizing agents to give fresh breath. These additives, along with the germ-killing properties of alcohol or other germicidal liquids, work together to not only freshen the breath, but also to destroy disease-causing germs. The ultimate goal is to prevent both tooth decay and gum disease. High levels of alcohol in some of these products concerns some people, however, and some may choose a chlorine dioxide mouthwash as an alternative.
This compound originally came into use as a mouthwash because of the benefits it provided when used for water treatment. Chlorine dioxide has the effect of controlling odors in water. Due to the fact that it is also a highly effective disinfectant for water-borne pathogens, but safe in the proper quantities, it has gained popularity as an ingredient to promote oral hygiene.
The number one active ingredient in chlorine dioxide mouthwash is stabilized chlorine dioxide, also commonly known as sodium chlorite, though the two are related but not identical compounds. Some claims for this additive assert that it will keep breath fresh up to six hours when used properly. Independent studies, though, do not necessarily back this up. In at least one study this type of mouthwash was found to eliminate bad breath for as little as four minutes, though other studies claim it is effective up to 12 hours when used on a regular basis.
Chlorine dioxide mouthwash works by actually altering the chemistry of foul-smelling gases in the mouth, resulting in a significant and immediate reduction in odors. The problem appears to be that the changes affect existing organic compounds in the mouth, but do not go beyond that. This leaves bacteria that are not killed by the chlorine dioxide mouthwash to continue to produce gases, resulting in the return of bad breath in short order.
A variation on the standard chlorine dioxide mouthwash requires that zinc be added to the mouthwash immediately prior to using it. The zinc neutralizes the odor-causing properties of the bacteria in the mouth, thus preventing bad breath for a much longer period. This combination can virtually eliminate odor problems for up to 12 hours.