When Can a Child Use a Fluoride Mouthwash?

My son is four years old and already has had several cavities in his baby teeth filled. Is he too young to begin using a fluoride mouthwash after brushing?

Question:

Today, we know that fluoride rinses are most beneficial for children between the ages of 6 and 12 years. Children younger than the age of six do not swish the rinse around in their mouths long enough for the fluoride to contact teeth. Young children may also swallow fluoride rinses. Some of these rinses contain alcohol and other ingredients that are not intended to be ingested.

Although many clinical studies during the 1970s reported a 20 to 40 percent reduction in cavities among children who rinsed with sodium fluoride mouth rinses, more recent studies show the number of tooth surfaces saved from decay are less than previously reported. For now, other preventive techniques should be used to help your young son fight cavities. These include fluoride supplements, toothpastes, and gels.

Proper use of fluoride is beneficial. If you live in an area where the drinking water has little or no fluoride or if you use bottled water, you should be giving your son fluoride supplements. You can get information on the fluoride content of the drinking water by contacting the local water district. Your dentist or pediatrician can then prescribe the proper amount of fluoride supplementation based on a history of your son's fluoride intake.

Daily application of a fluoride gel may also help your son fight cavities. Gels contact teeth longer than mouth rinses and are less likely to be swallowed. These should be available from your local drugstore or your dentist. You must supervise your son carefully when he uses these gels. He should spit out as much of the gel as possible and avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes after each application.

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