Choosing a mouthwash (also called a mouth rinse) can be a lot like deciding on a new cereal - the choices seem endless and can be confusing enough to forgo choosing anything at all. So how does one decide? And, really, aren't all mouthwashes essentially the same? Well, the fascinating thing about mouthwash is – they're actually not all the same, and deciding on one that will work well for your child isn't merely a matter of choosing your favorite color. Let's cut through some of the confusion.
Your first consideration when thinking about adding a mouthwash to your child’s oral care routine is their age. If they’re under the age of six, rinsing with a mouthwash is not recommended. Children between the ages of six and twelve can use mouthwash if your dentist recommends it, and if you as a parent monitor them when they use it. Younger children often take time adjusting to the idea of swishing a liquid in their mouth as opposed to swallowing it. As always, consult with your dentist when considering any sort of fluoride supplementation.
There are essentially two major categories of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. A cosmetic mouthwash is designed merely to act as a temporary breath freshener - that's it. It possesses no agents that aid in the prevention of plaque, nor does it protect against cavities or gingivitis. It's purely "cosmetic" as the name suggests. On the other hand, the therapeutic mouthwash is the heavy lifter in the family and does help in each of these areas. Within the therapeutic category then, there are two types that work to solve a particular oral health concern. To choose the right one, think about the following two questions:
Are your children prone to cavities?
If so, choose a mouthwash that states it helps prevent cavities, as it will likely contain Fluoride. Fluoride helps protect our teeth by strengthening the enamel and making it more difficult for acids that cause cavities to do their damage. Such a mouthwash might also be a good choice if they're inclined to get cavities AND they primarily drink bottled water (which, unlike tap water, doesn’t contain any added fluoride). Ask your dentist to be sure, though, as too much fluoride is not desirable and can result in splotchy-looking teeth (fluorosis).
Are they experiencing any form of gum disease?
If gum disease is your concern, choose a mouthwash designed specifically to control tartar and gum disease. The two go hand-in-hand, as increased tartar buildup allows gum disease-causing bacteria to spread and inflame the gums.
Unfortunately, there’s not a mouthwash out there that addresses both sets of needs equally. Good cavity-fighting mouthwashes and their added fluoride can actually contribute to a gum disease condition, since fluoride is another mineral that can nurture accumulation on tartar on your teeth (tartar is simply mineralized plaque).
As you’re choosing a mouthwash, be sure to look for one that bears the ADA's Seal of Approval. This certifies that the claims made by manufacturers are true. Lastly, it goes without saying that your dentist is in the best place to recommend a mouthwash for you. Since your dentist deals with teeth each and every day, and knows which products will work best with your personal dental issues, be sure to ask for a recommendation at your next scheduled appointment. With any luck, the next time you're in the mouthwash aisle, you'll walk directly to the product that works for you without a single moment's hesitation, and can escape the store equally as fast.