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How Brushing with a Fluoride Toothpaste Can Help Your Child Prevent Tooth Decay

June 16, 2014
Amr M. Moursi, Chairman, Department of Pediatric Dentistry, New York University

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Preventing tooth decay relies on a number of factors such as healthy eating habits, regular visits to the dentist and brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste.  When choosing toothpaste for your child, select one that carries the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. Although there are many brands of children’s toothpaste, be sure to buy one that contains fluoride. The amount of fluoride in toothpaste marketed towards children and the amount of fluoride in toothpaste designated for adults is exactly the same.  The big difference between the two types of toothpaste is in the packaging.  Popular characters and different flavors make tooth paste more attractive to children.  Since this toothpaste runs the risk of being too appealing, it is important that parents take on the responsibility of helping children brush their teeth when they are under 7 years old, including putting the toothpaste on the brush.  By helping your child brush his teeth, you can prevent him from using an excessive amount of toothpaste or eating it directly from the tube.  In contrast, some children do not like the taste or texture of toothpaste and will use too little, or none at all, unless a parent is in charge.  For these children a pediatric dentist can be helpful in working with parents to find toothpaste that is both effective and appealing to the child.  This usually happens by “trial and error” and may take a few tries.  In general, pastes are milder than gels.  Some children’s toothpastes have flavoring agents that may be too strong tasting for some kids. In this case, using a milder, standard toothpaste may be a good option to explore.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that you start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they erupt, typically around age 6 months.  A rice-size smear of fluoridated toothpaste (Figure 1) can be used for children under 3 years and a small, pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste (Figure 2) should be used in children 3 years and older. This amount provides an effective amount of fluoride while reducing the risk of swallowing too much. Although the recommended amounts are extremely safe, even if occasionally swallowed, you should teach your child to spit out the excess toothpaste at a young age.  Most children can do this well by age 3.  Early use of fluoridated toothpaste is an important part of tooth decay prevention for every child but it is particularly critical for children known to be at high risk for cavities such as children with medical or developmental disorders. These children may require high concentration, prescription-only fluoride toothpastes, generally recommended as part of a cavity prevention program in high risk patients who are over 6 years old. It is best to consult with your dentist about this matter. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

A good general rule for tooth brushing in children is the “2-2-2” method.  Have your child brush their teeth 2 times a day, every morning after breakfast and every night just before bed with a soft manual or electric toothbrush for a minimum of 2 minutes.  No food or drink should go in the mouth for 2 hours following each brushing.  (Check out brushing tips and fun, 2-minute brushing videos at http://www.2min2x.org/).  An adult should be responsible for helping to brush a child’s teeth until about the age of 7, when most children gain the manual dexterity, and patience, necessary to brush their teeth entirely by themselves.  A good developmental benchmark for independent brushing is the ability of a child to tie his or her own shoes.  After brushing, your child should spit out the excess toothpaste, but not rinse with water.  Rinsing will wash off the fluoride before it has had a chance to be absorbed by the tooth surface where it helps to prevent cavities.

Proper brushing with fluoride toothpaste and regular dental visits, along with a diet low in snacking and sugary foods, can help keep your child cavity free and healthy from their first tooth through their teenage years and well into adulthood.

How Brushing with a Fluoride Toothpaste Can Help Your Child Prevent Tooth Decay

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