The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed parents of nearly 1,700 children ages 3 to 6. They found that almost 40 percent of kids this age are brushing with excessive amounts of toothpaste, putting them at risk of developing a harmless but aesthetically unpleasant condition known as dental fluorosis.
Dental fluorosis happens when children under age 8 ingest too much fluoride. It can permanently mark and distort the teeth, making the problem difficult to get rid of without professional help. Parents can avoid this problem by sticking to the guidelines on toothpaste use.
Here's what the CDC recommends:
- Babies: Wipe gums twice daily with a soft clean cloth to remove sugars and bacteria that cause cavities.
- Children under 2: Use just water and a soft toothbrush as soon as the first tooth erupts. Don't use fluoridated toothpaste unless recommended by a doctor or dentist. (The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association say that fluoridated toothpaste is okay in specific situations for this age group, but limit the amount to a tiny smear.)
- Children ages 2 to 3: Put a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste – about the size of a grain of rice – on the brush.
- Children ages 3 to 6: Use no more than a pea-size amount of toothpaste.
Many kids are also getting a late start when it comes to dental hygiene. The CDC study found that a whopping 80 percent of children first began brushing their teeth later than recommended, and many are only brushing their teeth once instead of twice a day.
For optimal dental care, start brushing your child's teeth as soon as they get their first tooth (as early as 6 months), and do it twice a day. Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. Alene Marie D'Alesio, chief of pediatric dentistry at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, recommends that parents supervise their children's tooth brushing until at least age 6 and possibly even up to age 8.
The study results may not be completely accurate, since they relied on parents reporting their children's toothpaste use. The surveys also didn't ask parents whether they were using fluoridated toothpaste. Dental fluorosis only happens with use of fluoridated toothpaste.
For more information on caring for your child's teeth and gums, check out these our site resources:
- How to care for your baby's gums and emerging teeth
- Tooth care for children
- 5 safe toothpaste choices for babies and toddlers
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