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Cheap Mouthwash Buying Guide

There are a slew of options available in the cheap mouthwash segment. Our top pick is Listerine Original Antiseptic (starting at $0.13/oz.), which packs a powerful and lasting punch even as some users groan about the bracing taste.

(The milder Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic is an equal in nearly all respects but decidedly more palatable.) Our second-tier picks include Act Total Care Anti-Cavity Fluoride Mouthwash (starting at $0.18/oz.), another cheap and well-regarded rinse that addresses both cosmetic and minor dental health issues, and Scope Original Mint (starting at $0.10/oz.), which garners a tepid response from users for its seemingly short-term impact but pleases many with its fresh, tingling taste. One cheap mouth rinse that doesn't rise to the occasion is Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection Oral Rinse (starting at $0.20/oz.) for what users assert are disagreeable side effects like brown teeth stains and a long-lasting aftertaste.

Mouthwash can be divided into two categories: cosmetic, which dentists consider little more than a band-aid for bad breath, and therapeutic, which target serious conditions like tooth decay, gum disease, and dry mouth and more common problems like plaque, cavities, and tartar. Some mouthwashes are both cosmetic and therapeutic; Act's Anticavity line (a close relation of Act Total Care products), for example. Therapeutic rinses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, available with and without a prescription (depending on the product), and cost considerably more than cheap mouthwash, sometimes as much as $0.85/oz. The American Dental Association awards a Seal of Acceptance to products that have been independently evaluated for the safety of their ingredients and the veracity of their claims to effectiveness; among our picks, Listerine Antiseptic mouthwashes pass the test.

If the cost and/or formula of store-bought mouthwashes are not to your liking, numerous recipes for homemade mouthwash are scattered across the blogosphere. The cheapest of all the options we researched, DIY brews are made with the likes of herbs (myrrh, calendula, goldenseal), aloe vera, witch hazel, peppermint oil, tea tree oil, plantain leaf, baking soda, filtered water, vodka, and so on (but not all at once!) and cost less than pennies an ounce. Moreover, you know exactly what's in the rinse and can avoid the chemicals, sweeteners, and dyes found in commercial mouthwash, such as cetylpyridinium chloride, domiphen bromide, propylene glycol, sodium saccharin, sucralose, and blue 1.

You could also opt for commercially-produced natural mouthwashes, like Tom's of Maine Cleansing Mouthwash (starting at $0.29/oz.), which cost more than cheap mouthwash but shun synthetic flavors, preservatives, and colors, not to mention animal-derived ingredients.

Before committing to a mouth rinse, speak with a dentist. Mouthwash may mask the evidence of dental or other health problems, so dealing with underlying issues is critical. Even the best cheap mouthwash won't have the desired effect if the root of the bad breath problem is unrelated to having eaten garlic or raw onion. Investing in a therapeutic mouthwash that combats a given set of dental problems will cost more, but it could generate long-term savings by minimizing the need for expensive procedures down the road while simultaneously attacking opportunistic oral hygiene needs.

Still, the best cheap mouthwashes have their place in the medicine cabinet. The brand names you're most likely to see on the store shelf include stalwarts such as Listerine, Crest, Act, Colgate, Oral-B, Scope, and Cepacol; private label (e.g., CVS, Walgreens, Safeway) mouth rinses also abound. Many come in a variety of flavors (e.g., cool mint, berry blast) and niche formulas target specific issues, such as fighting cavities (look for rinses with fluoride), whitening teeth, eliminating dry mouth, and rebuilding enamel. Many oral rinses also contain alcohol, often in staggeringly high amounts; check the ingredients list carefully if this is an issue for you or anyone in the household (e.g., kids, pregnant women, seniors, and recovering alcoholics).

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And remember, don't ever swallow mouthwash. Most importantly, continue to brush regularly mouth rinse is no substitute for that basic component of every good oral hygiene routine.

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