My goal for this blog is to provide some clarity on what to look for when choosing a toothpaste for your child. There are still misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding the use of topical fluoride in young kids, and I would like to start with this very important topic. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral which, in appropriate doses and amounts, is very beneficial for a child’s (and adult’s) teeth. The “best” toothpaste for a child is a fluoride-containing toothpaste that they like, but there are important specifics to bear in mind. As the saying goes, you can certainly have “too much of a good thing”, and fluoride is no exception.
The simple answer is no. This is incorrect information and goes against the guidelines and recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Children who are too young to spit should have their teeth brushed with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste (think of the size of a grain of rice). This amount, when swallowed, is not harmful, and yet it provides effective topical fluoride on a daily basis for cavity prevention benefits. Fluoride makes teeth stronger by making them more resistant to acid. Acid (from bacteria) is what causes cavities. Once spitting has been mastered, advancing to a pea-sized amount is appropriate.
Let’s be honest. The label on the toothpaste tube can be really worrisome. “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.” No wonder many parents think fluoride toothpaste is best avoided until children can spit the toothpaste out. While it’s true that excessive fluoride can cause adverse effects like discolorations on permanent teeth (called fluorosis) or an upset stomach, it takes a massive amount of toothpaste to cause serious harm. As in, pretty much the entire tube.
Still, I always advise parents to keep toothpaste out of reach for young children, because if they like the taste, they may sneak some and eat it, and we don’t want that, for the same reason you would keep vitamin supplements out of reach. If you are concerned that your child may have inadvertently had a little bit too much toothpaste, give them a calcium containing product (like milk, for example) to bind the fluoride and not cause an upset stomach, and you should be in good shape. Chances are this is what the Poison Control Center will tell you as well, but if it was A LOT of toothpaste and you are worried, give them a call to guide you.
As previously mentioned, definitely get one with fluoride. The toothpaste can still be “all natural”, so don’t let yourself be misled by the fluoride-free products touting themselves as “all natural”. Fluoride is natural. It’s as natural as other minerals we consume and which, as long as they are not ingested in excessive amounts, play an important role in our overall health and well-being. Sodium fluoride, like sodium chloride (aka our beloved table salt) is basically a type of salt crystal.
Aside from fluoride, when it comes to other ingredients, my personal opinion is: the fewer ingredients and fillers, the better. In a nutshell, make sure the toothpaste contains fluoride, but everything else is more or less “optional” and you can decide if you are ok with artificial sweeteners and dyes. Personally, I favor avoiding those types of ingredients when possible, and in that spirit, the following list contains some of my favorites:
Well known brands like Crest and Colgate also have pediatric products, such as Crest Kids’ Cavity Protection Fluoride Toothpaste and Colgate’s Fluoride Toothpaste Cavity Protection for Kids, and the packaging typically has fun and recognizable cartoon characters that kids enjoy.
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in or ties to any of these companies and have no conflict of interest to disclose.
One of the main distinguishing factors is the flavor profile. Adult toothpastes most often contain mint and can be “too spicy” for many children. Kids toothpastes are milder and are often fruity or have other flavors that are typically kid-approved. Fluoride content is the same, so again, it’s the amount of toothpaste dispensed that is important to get the benefits without the possible side effects. Children’s toothpastes also tend to have fewer abrasives, which is good, although some parents complain that their children’s toothpaste does not make their teeth look as “shiny” as they would like. There are plenty of kids who seem fine with adult mint toothpaste, so you can certainly give it a try and see what happens if they sample yours.
To summarize, it’s best to get a toothpaste that has the ADA seal of acceptance, meaning they meet standards of safety and efficacy. Any toothpastes that are not ADA approved are likely to lack efficacy and have not necessarily been evaluated for safety, so my suggestion would be to steer clear of those.
For best results, let your child choose their own toothpaste from a set of good options that you’re comfortable with. So in a way, the “best” toothpaste is the one your child likes to use. Kids get excited by being involved in making these types of decisions, and as long as they’re old enough to have a say, let them be in charge of picking it out and take ownership of caring for their smiles.
While choosing the right toothpaste plays a key role in the oral hygiene routine, the brushing technique is equally important. We are always happy to demonstrate effective ways of brushing and flossing for the cleanest and healthiest teeth. We would love to share our tips and tricks with you to make caring for your kids' teeth simple and effective. Call today for an appointment!
In Health and Happiness,
Dr. Bana Ball
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