We all know by now that a healthy mouth requires good oral hygiene: brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and regular check-ups and cleanings. What about mouthwash? It isn’t mentioned as often, so is it necessary? What is mouthwash used for and does it even work? Is it safe for kids?
Read on to learn the answers to these questions and more.
1. Flavor is not the only thing to consider when picking out mouthwash.
It may surprise you to learn that mouthwash can have different active ingredients for different purposes. Some are merely to freshen breath and others are intended to treat or prevent various conditions. Types of mouthwash are broken into two main categories: cosmetic and therapeutic.
Cosmetic mouthwashes temporarily freshen breath and are also useful for rinsing out your mouth after eating: to remove food particles and help your mouth feel clean and taste pleasant. While these are great benefits, this type of mouthwash does not treat any underlying issues.
Therapeutic mouthwashes serve a variety of purposes. Some are only available by prescription, but others are available over the counter. Here are some of the most common active ingredients and what they are used for. Disclaimer – this list is for your information only, not a recommendation from us. Each person has individual needs. If you would like help discovering the best options for your child, and if they should even use mouthwash, we are happy to discuss it with you.
Fluoride – remineralizes teeth to reduce tooth decay.
Peroxide – reduces bacteria and whitens teeth.
Cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine, ethyl lauroyl arginate (LAE), povidone-iodine, sodium hypochlorite, lysozyme, lactoferrin, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, and some essential oils are antimicrobials - which may reduce bacteria that cause bad breath, plaque, and gingivitis.
Chlorhexidine may also prevent dry socket after tooth extraction but causes brown stains.
Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is a carrier agent and preservative for other ingredients, but there is not enough in mouthwash to kill bacteria. Alcohol-free mouthwashes are a great alternative, especially for kids and teens who are old enough to use mouthwash.
Benzydamine hydrochloride – reduces pain and inflammation and kills bacteria.
When you pick out mouthwash, it is helpful to look for the ADA seal of acceptance. To receive it, the mouthwash must have clinically proven that it does what is claimed. The manufacturers must also have demonstrated that their product is safe when used according to the directions and doesn’t damage tissues in your mouth.
2. Mouthwash should be seen as a helpful addition to your oral hygiene routine.
Whether using it to freshen breath, prevent tooth decay, reduce plaque and gingivitis, or treat one of the conditions mentioned above, mouthwash is a useful tool to add to your daily routine. Like flossing, mouthwash can help with areas that are not easily reached with a toothbrush. However, it should not replace brushing and flossing.
3. Is mouthwash safe for kids?
This depends on the age of your child and the active ingredient you choose.
Kids under 6 years-old should never use mouthwash - unless recommended by a pediatric dentist for a specific purpose. Most kids under six find it difficult to swish and spit it out. Depending on the ingredient, swallowing mouthwash could cause an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and other serious health problems. Many types of mouthwash contain alcohol or fluoride. If a child swallows mouthwash containing alcohol, it can put their health at risk. Children should never use a mouthwash that contains alcohol. It is also important to be aware if the mouthwash contains fluoride. While fluoride in appropriate amounts is beneficial for a child’s teeth, as with anything, too much can cause problems. Fluoride shouldn’t be swallowed and using too much on the teeth may cause a child’s tooth enamel to become discolored, a condition known as fluorosis. If you have any concerns about the safety of fluoride and how much a child can safely be exposed to, you can read our breakdown in this article.
Children who are 6 to 12 years old can use mouthwash – under an adult’s supervision. An adult should monitor that they are using the appropriate amount, are not accidentally swallowing any, and are using it along with brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, it may be tempting for a kid to rinse with mouthwash then skip brushing and flossing which will be detrimental to oral health. At this age, it is beneficial to practice swishing and spitting with water until your child is comfortable with it. Once they have mastered the technique (it helps to teach them to get it all in the sink!) then they are ready to try using small amounts of mouthwash. If the mouthwash is to be gargled, that is another tough skill to learn that should be practiced first. Gargling may be best learned in the shower to minimize the mess!
Mouthwash is safe for teenagers and can be a great addition to a teenager’s oral hygiene routine. It is especially useful for those with braces, since it helps rinse out food particles and certain ingredients can help protect teeth from plaque buildup. Again, using mouthwash without daily brushing and flossing is nearly pointless. Remind your teenagers, especially if they are wearing braces, that neglecting to floss and brush well will almost certainly result in cavities and gum disease. It can also cause white spots on teeth after braces are removed.
4. How to use mouthwash.
First, read and follow the instructions on the bottle. Not all mouthwash will have the same instructions. One reason for the difference is that some ingredients will be less effective when combined with fluoride. Others, especially prescription mouthwashes, require a certain amount of time to be effective or need to be used at specific, regular intervals.
Most commonly, the instructions include swishing and gargling for at least 30 seconds, then spitting out all the mouthwash.
If you have children in the house, for their health, always store mouthwash out of reach.
5. Mouthwash and Covid-19
A recent study showed that some types of mouthwash are effective at killing the virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2). You can read all about it in this report, but the basic information breaks down to this:
The virus was exposed to mouthwash for at least 30 seconds.
Mouthwash with cetylpyridinium chloride or a combination of ethanol and ethyl lauroyl arginate (LAE) was most effective at killing the virus.
Mouthwash with povidone-iodine or a combination of ethanol and essential oils also worked, but less effectively.
Don’t forget to use common sense. Mouthwash will not kill a virus it doesn’t touch, so anything breathed in through your nose, or that makes it down into your throat or lungs will not be neutralized by swishing mouthwash.
Choosing mouthwash may seem like a bigger decision than you had imagined, but hopefully, this information has helped you. Remember, the most important thing to know about mouthwash is that it is not a good substitute for daily brushing and flossing! If you have any questions about adding mouthwash to your child’s routine, please reach out to us. We are pleased to help your child have a bright, healthy smile. Thank you for letting us help your family in this way.
Have a happy, healthy New Year!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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