This review considers the main agents which have been used as antibacterial agents in mouthwashes and other vehicles to inhibit the growth of supragingival plaque. The agents discussed are bisguanide antiseptics, quaternary ammonium compounds, phenolic antiseptics, hexetidine, povidone iodine, triclosan, delmopinol, salifluor, metal ions, sanguinarine, propolis and oxygenating agents. The plaque inhibitory, anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis properties of these agents are considered along with their substantivity, safety and possible clinical usefulness. Clinical trials of these agents that have been published are also reported. The possible clinical uses of antiseptic mouthwashes are finally considered along with some advice about assessing manufacturers claims. Throughout this review the terms plaque inhibitory, antiplaque and anti-gingivitis have been used according to the clarification of terminology suggested by the European Federation of Periodontology at its second workshop. This defines a plaque inhibitory effect as one reducing plaque to levels insufficient to prevent the development of gingivitis; an anti-plaque effect as one which produces a prolonged and profound reduction in plaque sufficient to prevent the development of gingivitis; and anti-gingivitis as an anti-inflammatory effect on the gingival health not necessarily mediated through an effect on plaque.
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