I am asked regularly by my patient’s parents about the many mouthwashes on the market today and if children should be using them. There are many different types of mouthwashes with different benefits, such as, preventing tooth decay, freshening breath, reducing plaque, and preventing gingivitis. It can be overwhelming to know which types are safe and effective for your child to use.
I think it is important to start by narrowing down what you would like to accomplish with a mouthwash. Are you looking to clear up bad breath? Do you hope to reduce tooth decay or alleviate mouth sores? There are generally two types of mouthwashes available: cosmetic or therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes give you the “minty” clean feel and pleasant taste and reduce bad breath. However, cosmetic mouthwashes address the symptoms of bad breath, not the causes of the problem. Therapeutic mouthwashes help treat tooth decay, reduces plaque build-up and prevents gingivitis. They may not freshen your breath as well as cosmetic mouthwash but it will help fight the causes of bad breath.
Mouthwash with fluoride is designed to reduce tooth decay by strengthening the enamel and make teeth more resistant to cavities. However, fluoridated mouthwash doesn’t remove plaque and is not a substitute for brushing and flossing. I use fluoridated mouthwash for my kids at night after we floss and brush.
In general, children under the age of 6 should not use mouthwashes. Swallowing mouthwash can be dangerous and therefore we use 6 as an age where children can reliably spit out the mouthwash. In special circumstances, a child may be able to use a mouthwash younger than 6 but it should be discussed with your pediatric dentist before starting. For those who are ready, there are a number of mouthwashes designed specifically for children. The flavors come in bubble gum, strawberry, or grape and are milder than the minty flavors used in adult mouthwashes. They are usually alcohol-free. It is important to make sure your child is using an alcohol-free mouthwash as the alcohol can be very drying to our mouths and also will give your child’s mouth a “burning” sensation. When choosing a mouthwash, it is also a good idea to look for the ADA Seal of Approval. These are products that have undergone many tests to ensure they are effective and safe. The right mouthwash can be a helpful adjunct to our oral hygiene routine. Always remember that a healthy diet and good flossing and brushing techniques are the most important piece to a healthy smile!
Dr. Nicole Stoker is a pediatric dentist for