For some children, getting them to brush is no problem at all – but preventing them from swallowing the tooth paste is! The younger the child, the more difficult it may be to teach them to spit and rinse properly after tooth brushing.
While your child may be swallowing a little bit of toothpaste each time they brush, generally speaking, this tiny amount will not cause harm. The fluoride it contains, however, can disrupt the look of their adult teeth.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral found in soil, water (both fresh and salt) and various foods.
Most toothpastes contain fluoride which is considered beneficial to children’s oral health. It helps strengthen the hard surfaces of the teeth from the harmful erosive effects of bacterial acids that cause tooth decay. It has been demonstrated that for children younger than 6 years, fluoride toothpaste use is effective in reducing tooth decay. Fluoride can also prevent or even reverse tooth decay that has started. A dentist may recommend fluoride therapy or supplements for a child who is at a higher risk of developing cavities.
Although swallowing toothpaste is not life-threatening, when consumed in high concentrations, it can adversely affect teeth and overall health, leading to fluorosis of the teeth as well as headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and upset stomach.
According to the Canadian Dental Association: “An excessive swallowing of toothpaste by young children may result in dental fluorosis, children under 6 years of age should be supervised during brushing and only use a small amount of toothpaste.“
Children under 3 years of age should have their teeth brushed by an adult. The use of fluoridated toothpaste in this age group is determined by the level of risk. Parents should consult a health professional to determine whether a child up to 3 years of age is at risk of developing tooth decay. If such a risk exists, the child’s teeth should be brushed by an adult using a minimal amount (a portion the size of a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste. Use of fluoridated toothpaste in a small amount has been determined to achieve a balance between the benefits of fluoride and the risk of developing fluorosis. If the child is considered to be at low risk, the teeth should be brushed by an adult using a toothbrush moistened only with water.
Children from 3 to 6 years of age should be assisted by an adult in brushing their teeth. Only a small amount (a portion the size of a green pea) of fluoridated toothpaste should be used.”
This regimen is intended to maximize the caries-preventive benefits of fluoride while further reducing the risk of developing fluorosis.
What is Fluorosis?
The condition of dental fluorosis causes white or brown discoloration or spots on the enamel, or tooth surface. It occurs when younger children ingest too much fluoride in early childhood. Fluorosis can only occur when teeth are developing under the gums. Once the teeth emerge into the mouth they cannot develop fluorosis. Fluorosis is a cosmetic condition, not a disease and does not affect the health of teeth. In fact, most times, the appearance can be so subtle that only a dentist would notice it. The type of fluorosis found in Canada has no effect on tooth function and may even make the teeth more resistant to decay.
The chance of developing fluorosis exists until about age eight because teeth are still forming under the gums. Although the risk of developing fluorosis in the adult teeth is associated with fluoride exposure beginning at 1 year of age, the risk to the permanent front teeth is greatest at approximately 2 years of age.
There are a few measures you can take to prevent your child from excessive fluoride exposure and it’s associated risks:
- For children under two, you can choose to brush with water only, but consult your dentist first
- Use toothpastes with a low fluoride content from 2-6 years old.
- Keep toothpaste our of the reach of young children
- Children under 3 years of age should have their teeth brushed by an adult then begin assisting them as they grow older.
- Keep an eye on your child’s brushing to help minimize the amount of toothpaste that gets swallowed.
- Supervise the loading of their toothbrush to ensure that they are using the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
- Do not use fluoride mouth rinses for children under six unless advised to do so by a dentist or other health professional.
Don’t know if a toothpaste contains fluoride? Check the box or tube for ingredients and for the symbol of the Canadian Dental Association. This symbol means the toothpaste has fluoride. Lastly, because there is a lot of online misinformation about fluoride, always consult your dentist or family doctor about the use of fluoride.