At Jungle Roots Dentistry, we often hear a question from parents of children just getting their first teeth: When should my child start using toothpaste? We will answer this question, what ingredients should be used (and are safe!), and more!
What Age Is Old Enough?
As soon as a child’s first tooth erupts, their tooth needs to be brushed! This is the same time to schedule an appointment with our office to begin your child’s journey of oral health.
Children under 3 years of age who still swallow toothpaste should use fluoride-free toothpaste that is only the size of a grain of rice. Once they can consistently spit out toothpaste, then you can transition them to the same amount of toothpaste with fluoride. A child aged 3-6 should only use a pea-sized amount. This is much less than the heaping amount you see on TV!
Help them learn to spit out the paste and not swallow it while or after brushing. The good news is, that even if a child swallows the entire amount, it will not be harmful in these measurements. It is important to brush your children's teeth until they can adequately do it themselves, and then continue to supervise your child to ensure that they are forming a habit of brushing thoroughly and not using too much toothpaste.
Safety and Benefits of Fluoride
Fluoride is one of the best minerals to prevent the erosion of your tooth enamel. It is naturally found in water, soil deposits, and many foods. Topical fluoride that is in toothpaste is the most effective way to get it the right amount where it needs to be - on your teeth.
Fluoride sticks to the calcium ions near the surface of the teeth, and this "shield" of ions makes it hard for bacteria to stick to the teeth, while the binding effect also slows down any enamel erosion. It can also strengthen tooth enamel that has been weakened by early decay.
Fluoride also prevents dental caries (cavities) as it limits the amount of acid in the mouth and decreases the development of harmful bacteria. Regular use has dramatically decreased the incidence and severity of cavities (tooth decay) in the United States.
Some people are concerned about fluoride’s safety. It is true that any natural substance can be harmful with too much exposure, and fluoride is no exception. However, the quantities of fluoride that would need to be ingested to be harmful are much higher than the amounts recommended for brushing teeth.
To learn more about fluoride, exactly how much is safe, and why people still get cavities even when they use fluoride toothpaste, see our past article here.
One Result of Too Much Fluoride
Dental fluorosis occurs when a child’s teeth are still forming under their gums and happens because the child has been overexposed to fluoride, usually through regular overconsumption of it in water or toothpaste over a long period of time. Most municipal water supplies carefully monitor the level of fluoride if its added in the water system, so overexposure that way is a very small risk.
The spots caused by dental fluorosis are cosmetic and can look like white flecks or brown patches on the teeth. It may cause pitting of the teeth or uneven surfaces. Although the appearance of teeth is impacted, the function and health of the teeth are not negatively impacted. In fact, the fluorosed teeth are actually more resistant to cavities because the teeth had overexposure.
Fluorosis can be treated. Ask our staff about treatment if your child seems to be troubled or embarrassed because of this.
Xylitol Benefits in Toothpaste
Xylitol was originally named after xylose (wood sugar). It’s a sugar alcohol that comes from plants like birch and beech trees. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved xylitol use and its safety in 1963.
Replacing sugar with xylitol in gums, candies, sugar-free snacks, and other oral products, e.g., toothpaste, is beneficial to overall health. Many sugar-free food products have xylitol as their sweetener. Xylitol is processed by the human body differently than sucrose, the ingredient in all types of sugar, maple syrup, and honey. It allows you to taste sweetness with 40% fewer calories than sugar. It does not cause a sudden increase in blood sugar as sugar does, and so does not create an insulin spike.
In the mouth specifically, normal sugars allow and encourage bacteria to grow. Acid is produced, and this can erode the enamel of the teeth. This erosion allows cavities to form. When you consume xylitol instead of sugar, the bacteria cannot grow and form plaque or produce acid. It reduces levels of mutans streptococci (MS) bacteria strains in human plaque and saliva. MS bacteria causes dental caries, and xylitol has properties that counteract these strains.
The bacteria starve to death as they try to break xylitol down like they would break down other types of sugar. When xylitol is consumed regularly, the quantity of cavity-causing bacteria decreases (and the creation of plaque is slowed), making room for beneficial bacteria. pH levels are also higher in the mouth after exposure to xylitol, and in this environment, calcium and phosphate in saliva are more easily absorbed by teeth.
There are no risks associated with xylitol use. It has a cool, sweet taste that may leave a fresh sensation in the mouth and lips! For an in-depth look at xylitol, see our past article here.
One important note: Xylitol is very toxic to dogs. If you feel that your pet has ingested sugar-free gum, mints, or other products containing xylitol, please contact your veterinarian.
Should children’s toothpaste contain fluoride and/or Xylitol?
We recommend using fluoride and xylitol-based toothpaste, once your child is old enough. When used in proper amounts, fluoride and xylitol are both safe and effective ways to clean and protect your teeth. They both discourage acid and plaque build-up and protect the teeth from dental caries.
Brushing and flossing twice daily with fluoride and xylitol toothpaste is something you can teach your children at home. When they are old enough not to swallow sugar-free gum or mints, this is a great way to get the xylitol they need to help counteract plaque and acid production throughout the entire day. Bring them for a regular appointment every 6 months, or call sooner if you have a concern regarding their oral health. When their first tooth erupts, schedule an appointment to start your child on the road to a healthy smile! We would be happy to be your child’s dental home!