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Kids and Fluoride

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Emery Brushing Teeth

Have you ever watched a child put toothpaste on their toothbrush?  It’s not usually the delicate pea-sized amount that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for kids 3 and older.  Even for younger kids, the AAP says only to use a “smear (grain of rice amount)” prior to the 3rd birthday.  But, why is it that the amount of toothpaste is such a big deal?

Too Much Toothpaste is Dangerous

Because of the fluoride.  Most of us know the HUGE benefit of fluoride—it helps to prevent tooth decay and cavities.  Dentists recommend fluoride use in different applications to both treat and prevent decay.   However, when it comes to small kids (ages 6 and younger), there are lots of potential issues which can be caused by fluoride as well.

According to fluorideallert.org, “children who swallow too much fluoride toothpaste can suffer acute poisoning, even death.  In fact a single tube of bubble-gum flavored Colgate-for-Kids toothpaste contains enough fluoride (143 mg) to kill a child weighing less than 30 kg (Whitford 1987a),” or 66.14 pounds.

Toothpaste for Kids

This is why introducing our children to toothpaste containing fluoride isn’t something parents should do too early.  Lots of kids will ingest the toothpaste even if they are old enough to “know better,” simply because a lot of those on the market have added flavoring like bubble gum or fruit juices to make them more appealing.

Children also don’t have the best swallowing reflexes, so they may be ingesting more of the paste than is physically safe whether they, or you, realize it or not.  Several of these kid-targeted toothpastes with fluoride will say they are safe for an age as young as 2 years, though many dentists recommend waiting until the age of 6 or older to let your child use fluoride toothpaste, simply because then you know they will be spitting it out.  It will benefit their teeth without getting ingested.

So, without fluoride toothpaste, how do parents ensure children are getting the actual amounts that are needed to perform the benefit that fluoride was designed to do, which is prevent tooth decay?

Here’s the Good News

The answer is water.  Parents are instructed to brush their babies’ new teeth simply with a toothbrush and tap water.  And parents of toddler-aged children have probably had the discussion with their pediatricians or dentists about the type of water their children drink.  Tap or filtered water from the refrigerator is safest, and beware of giving them only bottled water.  Why?  Because our local water supplies contain fluoride.  According to kidshealth.org in fact, “as of 2012, CDC statistics show that more than 60% of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water through the taps in their homes,” whether it’s naturally occurring in their water or added at processing plants.  You can even check the Environmental Protection Agency’s database to find out what’s in your water.  The same website demonstrates that water fluoridation is actually estimated today to reduce tooth decay by “20%-40%.”  And it’s been doing so safely for over 60 years.  The American Dental Association even cites the CDC as naming it “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

These days, not all tap water is convenient to drink (or has the best flavor depending on where you live).  No worries there either.  Many bottling companies have joined the fluoride wave by adding it to their bottled water as well.  Just check the label—most of them will advertise it right on the front because they want you to know they’ve taken that extra step.

Alternative Toothpastes

If you are concerned at all about your children ingesting too much fluoride, there are other toothpaste options readily available than the fruity, bubblegum ones with cute cartoon characters on the outside.  Feel free to ask your dentist for a good suggestion.  Some alternatives, like xylitol-based toothpastes, can also help prevent other health issues like ear infections.  Toothpastes like these are either sold at your dentist’s office, your local health food store, or easily found through an online retailer.