There was a lot of concern a few years ago over mouthwash causing oral cancer. This was very misleading. It was only the mouthwash containing alcohol that was under suspicion.
Mouthwash containing alcohol may raise the risk of oral cancer. The concern is over the heavy exposure. The mouthwashes would contain 25-40% alcohol, and individuals would gargle this for a full minute three times per day. This is a high amount of alcohol exposure.
Realistically, when people do use mouthwash it is gargled twice per day for half a minute. This level of alcohol exposure is a little high, but probably not too bad.
However, alcohol will tend to dry out the mouth, and this is bad for teeth and breath. Ironically the mouthwash can cause the very problems that it is supposed to remove. It is best to avoid alcohol mouthwashes.
Really, it is now easy to buy alcohol free mouthwashes, including most good quality, brand names. These can be used two or three times daily, and you teeth, not to mention you breathe, will be noticeably improved.
There are a few different types of mouthwash, designed to treat different dental concerns.
Antiseptic / general mouthwashes
This is the most common type. It does a decent job of killing off germs and bacteria, especially if you have already brushed you teeth, and it gives you fresh breath.
These are very good for sensitive or slightly damaged teeth. If the outer tooth enamel is damaged be de-calcification then the fluoride in these mouthwashes will reverse the process. It takes a few week to feel the benefits, but these mouthwashes can stop decay from getting worse, and reverse the process if we start using them early on.
Basically just to freshen breath. It would be better to use an antiseptic mouthwash if we are already quite healthy, or a specialized mouthwash if we have a specific problems.
Mouthwashes with all natural, non-chemical ingredients. Their effectiveness varies.
Patients with gum disease may be given a prescription for an extremely strong mouthwash that fights infections. This will only be used for a short period, until the infection is removed.
Mouthwash is of particular use to those of us still wearing braces as regular brushing and flossing is difficult with braces. Mouthwash, adds that extra bit of protection.
We recommend interdental brushes or Waterpik when teeth with braces.