If Target’s oral hygiene aisle is any indication, your options for “the right kids toothpaste” are, it seems, endless. But most of the differences in front of you are nothing more than that, mirrors and smoke; “good old American” consumer economy at its best. They know what you want to hear, how much you’re willing to pay to get it, and how often you’re willing to buy it again. When it comes to children’s toothpaste, it's not that complicated. There is only one active ingredient, and that is Fluoride.
So let's shine some light on the black mystery box that is your child’s toothpaste selection and the different recommendations:
You are either going to choose a Fluoridated or a Fluoride-free children’s toothpaste. They do call these by all sorts of different marketing-driven names, including “toddler, trainer, safe to swallow, or fluoride-free” to mention a few. Basically, these toothpaste manufacturers are feeding on your concern that fluoride toothpaste may be harmful to a kid who may not be able to spit their excess toothpaste after brushing. In short, this type of toothpaste has no tangible benefit to your child’s teeth. In fact, great tasting toothpaste trains the child to grab the toothbrush from you to suck all the yummy off, while you struggle to convince her that you need to brush her teeth. You may be better off just using a wet toothbrush (and no flavored paste), which your child will actually not insist on grabbing from you to suck on, if you are set on using a fluoride free kids toothpaste.
If you plan to protect your child’s teeth and follow the pediatrician’s guidelines, you will use a fluoridated kids toothpaste from the day your child’s first tooth breaks through their gums. But use children’s toothpaste for what it is, medication. The fluoride in your child’s toothpaste is the active ingredient that makes it medication. With the correct indication (risk for cavities), the correct amount (dosage) can give you the benefits and minimize the potential harm. So a toddler with teeth should get just a smear (about a single grain of rice) of fluoridated, kids toothpaste. That is enough to get all the benefits including the hardening of their enamel. Given their age, they will swallow every bit of that smear and have no harm from it due to its very low dose.
As your child gets older, with more teeth, and bigger in weight, you should increase the amount of their toothpaste, eventually to a (small) pea-size by the time they are six years old. For example, a three year old (who is half a six years old’s age) would use half a pea-size. This “dosing” of fluoride kids toothpaste is how your child can have their cake and eat it too, sort of speak when it comes to getting the benefits of fluoride without the risk of ingesting too much. It all comes down to making sure that your kids oral hygiene is well taken care of and getting the priority it deserves.
The ADA website has a lot of good recommendations for different brands of toothpaste which you could find helpful for your child’s oral health.
You can also ask your pediatric dentist for their recommendations, but the most important thing is that you start brushing your child’s teeth right away at the onset of their first tooth!
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Dr. J is a board certified pediatric dentist and owner of Scripps Pediatric Dentistry & Brush n Brace, pediatric dental offices located in San Diego, CA. He is not only a Diplomat with the board but now also has Fellow status with the AAPD. He is a proud father of 3 beautiful girls, a San Diego native, loves soccer and is passionate about pediatric oral health. His mission is battling the number 1 disease that he has seen take over our beloved children. #AskDrJ provides answers and solutions to parents questions & concerns regarding their children's oral health. Click here for a full list of articles from #AskDrJ