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An over-the-counter mouth rinse isn't likely to be harmful to you or your baby (as long as you're not drinking it). However, experts have slightly different points of view on who is likely to benefit from using a mouth rinse during pregnancy and which kinds are effective in different situations.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that pregnant women use a fluoridated, alcohol-free mouth rinse daily to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. The AAPD suggests using a 0.05 percent sodium fluoride rinse once a day or a 0.02 percent sodium fluoride rinse twice a day.
This is a particularly good idea if you're vomiting frequently, which bathes your teeth in stomach acid that erodes tooth enamel. If you like, you can rinse with a mouthwash each time you vomit. Alternatively, rinsing with a cup of water containing a teaspoon of baking soda after vomiting also helps prevent enamel erosion. (Just don't brush your teeth for at least half an hour after vomiting because your tooth enamel is weakened by the acid and can be damaged by the abrasive ingredients in toothpaste.)
For dental health during pregnancy, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing once a day. If you're having trouble controlling plaque, they say your dentist may recommend using an antimicrobial or antibacterial mouth rinse rather than a fluoridated rinse. (Some dentists suggest using an antibacterial rinse in the morning and a fluoride rinse at night.)
If you have severe gum disease, some dentists prescribe a rinse containing the antimicrobial chlorhexidine. This product is generally used only in serious cases and is not recommended for daily or prolonged use because it tends to stain your teeth.
Rinses that are both fluoridated and antimicrobial are not recommended because they contain high amounts of alcohol. While it's unlikely that the alcohol in a mouthwash would reach your baby – since you spit it out rather than swallow it – experts still caution against it. Alcohol tends to irritate your gums and has no beneficial effect.
Some final tips:
- Rinses work best if you swish them around your mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting them out.
- If you use a mouth rinse at night, have it be the last thing that touches your teeth before bed.
- When using a rinse at other times of day, don't brush, floss, eat, drink, or even rinse with water for at least half an hour afterward, since that can reduce the effectiveness of the product.
Ask your dentist whether you might benefit from using a rinse, and if so, to recommend a specific product for your situation.