Sorry, no time for fanciful intros here. We’re obligated to let you know this instant that gargling is a lie. If you want to keep your teeth as healthy as possible — and if you’re going to the trouble to use mouthwash at all, chances are you probably do — stop gargling immediately and start swishing.
“Swishing mouthwash in your mouth makes sure [the liquid] hits all your teeth,” says Advanced Family Dentistry’s Vince Vargas. “Gargling doesn’t do much compared to swishing. I’ve always told my patients to swish.”
If you’re skeptical, think about it in practical terms. When you swish, you’re using the muscles in your cheeks to vigorously push the mouthwash around. Not only does this make sure it coats all your teeth, it also helps push the mouthwash in-between your teeth as well, coating the entirety of each tooth, explains Vargas.
Now think about gargling, where you pour the mouthwash to the back of your throat and exhale to make the liquid rise as bubbles. Unless you’re using an immense amount of mouthwash, the level of the liquid doesn’t even rise as high as your back molars. When you gargle, chances are the bubbles never reach the back of your front teeth — but even if they did, the mouthwash only has access to the interior of your teeth, and only gives it the lightest touch. That’s not nearly enough pressure to knock off any loose plaque or bits of food your toothbrush may have missed, which swishing does. There’s a reason top-selling brands all specify that users swish their mouthwashes in their products’ directions sections on their labels.
It’s not that gargling is totally useless; it does promote health in the back of your mouth and tongue, which rarely get a visit from your toothbrush. It also helps lessen bad breath (although it does not cure bad breath). Honestly, perhaps the best thing you can do is combine the two, swishing and gargling — just make sure you’re swishing for a full 30 seconds to get mouthwash’s full benefits. Then you can spit and walk away.
Hmm? Oh, were you planning on rinsing your mouth out after using mouthwash to get that nasty taste out of your mouth? That nasty taste that gives you great-smelling breath and needs to stay on your teeth for a while to do its best cleaning instead of getting washed off immediately? Yeah, don’t do that.
By god, man, if you’re going to all the trouble to use mouthwash, use it right.