Toothpastes, Toothbrushes and More



Choosing a toothpaste can be confusing. When buying toothpaste for your child, look for one that contains fluoride and tastes good. Some toothpastes also are approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA Seal of Acceptance means that the toothpaste's manufacturer has proven that the toothpaste is safe and effective. Some manufacturers choose not to seek approval. So toothpastes without the ADA seal also may be safe and work well, but the ADA has not evaluated them.

Unless your dentist recommends otherwise, start using a toothpaste with fluoride on your child's teeth as soon as they come into the mouth. Fluoride helps to prevent cavities. For children who are younger than 3 years, use only a "smear" of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) on the bristles of the toothbrush. For children who are 3 to 6 years old, the amount of toothpaste can be increased to a pea-size amount.

Using too much toothpaste puts your child at risk of developing white or brown spots on the permanent teeth (called fluorosis). Until children are able to brush their own teeth correctly, it is important that they are supervised while brushing. Young children also should be encouraged to spit out any excess toothpaste to avoid accidental swallowing.


The type of toothbrush your child uses is important. The wrong kind can damage the gums. All children should use toothbrushes with soft nylon bristles. When your child is an infant, the toothbrush should be very small. As he or she grows, select a toothbrush that can fit easily in the mouth and brush one or two teeth at a time. Your child's toothbrush should be able to reach all the teeth.

Replace toothbrushes about every four months, or when they begin to look worn and frayed. If a toothbrush wears out before three or four months have passed, you or your child may be brushing too hard.

Powered toothbrushes are fun and may remove more plaque than regular toothbrushes. That doesn't mean you should run out and buy one. Regular toothbrushes work just fine. However, powered toothbrushes do make brushing easier. They can be especially helpful for children who can't sit still long enough to properly brush their teeth with a regular toothbrush.

Water Irrigation Devices

Water irrigation devices can remove food from between teeth. Most children probably don't need to use them. They might be useful for some children with braces or other orthodontic appliances. These devices do not remove plaque that is firmly attached to the tooth. That still needs to be done with a toothbrush.

Mouthwashes and Fluoride Mouth Rinses

Mouthwash and fluoride mouth rinse are two different products. Mouthwash freshens breath, but does nothing to clean teeth. Many mouthwashes contain alcohol and are not appropriate for children younger than 6 years old. This is because young children can easily swallow the mouthwash. If your child has chronic bad breath, the cause needs to be evaluated. It may be due to a lack of brushing or poor brushing, or it could be caused by a health problem.

Fluoride mouth rinse coats teeth with fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities. You should check with your child's dentist or dental hygienist to determine if your child needs to use a fluoride mouth rinse. It is typically used once or twice a day by children who are at a high risk for cavities. Children as young as 7 years old can use a fluoride rinse, if they know how to spit out a liquid without swallowing it. You can test your child to see if he or she is ready. Give him or her a half-cup of water. Ask your child to put some of the water in his or her mouth, swish it around and spit it out into a second cup. If there is a half-cup of water in the second cup, your child probably can spit out the mouth rinse. You should still supervise your child to make sure the rinse does not get swallowed.


Flossing is critical to healthy gums. Start flossing when your child's teeth start to touch one another.

Floss is available in many different sizes, coatings, flavors and forms. If you have trouble using the floss wrapped around your fingers, you can purchase floss holders in most drugstores and grocery stores. Some floss holders come in bright colors and are made to appeal to children.

Floss your child's teeth once a day. Many people floss just before bedtime. But if another time is more convenient for you, do it then.

Move the floss up and down with light to firm pressure to skim off plaque from the tooth. Do not press so hard that you injure the gum.


© 2002- 2017 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Choosing Mouthwashes and Mouth Rinses

Mouthwash and fluoride mouth rinse are two different products. Here are some of the differences:

  • Antibacterial mouthwashes – these mouthwashes are more effective in controlling plaque than fluoride rinses, and also freshen breath.

  • Fluoride rinses – these rinses coat the teeth with fluoride to strengthen teeth to prevent tooth decay and cavities. They also freshen breath.