Antimicrobial Mouthwashes: An Overview of Mechanisms-What Do We Still Need to Know?

Int Dent J. 2023 Nov;73 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S64-S68. doi: 10.1016/j.identj.2023.08.009. Epub 2023 Oct 17.


This narrative literature review is the first in a 6-section supplement on the role of mouthwashes in oral care. This introduction briefly summarises current knowledge on antimicrobial mechanisms, relating to some of the most common over-the-counter mouthwash products available worldwide: chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide, cetylpyridinium chloride, povidone iodine, and essential oils. The aim of this first article is to describe how mouthwashes "kill" pathogenic microbes when used adjunctively and thus provide a basis for their widespread use to manage key oral diseases, namely caries, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. This article therefore sets the scene for subsequent, more detailed exploration of mouthwashes regarding their clinical effectiveness, impact on the oral microbiome, and possible effects on systemic health as well as natural alternatives and future directions. Other than the clinical effectiveness (for certain agents) of mouthwashes, on many topics there remains insufficient evidence for systematic review or formulation of robust national guidelines. The supplement, therefore, compiled by an international task team, is aimed at general dental practitioners across the globe, as an easy-to-read guide for helping to advise patients on mouthwash use based on the current best available evidence.

Keywords: Bacteria; Caries; Chlorhexidine; Gingivitis; Mouthwash.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents* / pharmacology
  • Anti-Infective Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local* / pharmacology
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local* / therapeutic use
  • Chlorhexidine / pharmacology
  • Chlorhexidine / therapeutic use
  • Dentists
  • Gingivitis* / chemically induced
  • Gingivitis* / drug therapy
  • Gingivitis* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Mouthwashes / pharmacology
  • Mouthwashes / therapeutic use
  • Professional Role


  • Mouthwashes
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Anti-Infective Agents