Under the category of “if a little is good, more is better,” many of us might think this applies to toothpaste. If we did, then we would be very wrong — at least as it applies to kids.
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which surveyed several thousand parents of kids aged 3 to 15, 4 in 10 kids between the ages of 3 to 6 years overdo it. That means using a toothbrush full or half-full of toothpaste. Dentists and dental hygienists recommend no more than a pea-sized amount in older kids and even less in toddlers.
So what? After all, toothpaste is not that expensive. Splurge a little, right? After all, it is all in the name of cleaner teeth, right? Wrong.
For a child under 3 years of age, use only a smear of toothpaste the size of a rice grain. If between ages 3 and 6, then that can be a pea-sized amount. No caterpillar-sized blobs on that brush! Excessive toothpaste inhibits the effectiveness of the brush. Too much foam from the toothpaste keeps the brush from getting to the teeth and wastes valuable time just getting rid of the paste during brushing.
Kids also should drink fluoridated water and everyone older than 2 should brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
One reason many kids overdo it is likely the sweet taste of most kid’s toothpaste products. Not surprisingly, when some kids begin to brush independently, younger kids may load up their brush like Cheese Whiz on a cracker. Parents should supervise toothpaste usage until age 6.
The fluoride in toothpaste and drinking water results in fewer cavities. Its benefit in the right amounts is unquestioned. Too much fluoride applied to still-forming teeth raises concerns of streaking and spotting, better known as fluorosis, in the adult teeth that emerge later. Long-term exposure to excess fluoride is a cause of teeth pitting.
Studies estimate that 40 percent of teens have evidence of dental fluorosis. This has been a trend since the mid-1980s. We know based on this recent study that kids are overdoing it with toothpaste amount. It remains unproven whether this is directly causing high rates of tooth streaking and spotting in older children and teens.
Remember, not all kids’ toothpastes have fluoride.
As far as how often most kids brush, the report found about 60 percent brushed twice a day. Between 20 and 30 percent of kids did not even start brushing until they were three years of age or older.
If you have a newborn, remember the following tips. Before baby gets any teeth, wipe the gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth — in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed. That action helps wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities in erupting teeth.
Once baby’s first tooth comes in, start brushing teeth twice a day with a rice grain-sized amount of toothpaste.
Please take your baby to the dentist by the first birthday. It is the best way to spot early signs of problems. If you do not have a dentist, ask your pediatrician to check your baby’s mouth and help you find one.
Dr. Stephen Ponder is a pediatric endocrinologist at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s.