Toothpaste – A Little Dab Will Do

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Magazine and television advertisements for toothpaste usually show generous globs of cavity-fighting material covering the toothbrushes. But sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. For children under the age of six, overuse of fluoride toothpaste can cause fluorosis, a harmless cosmetic defect characterized by white flecks, or in some severe cases, brown-stained teeth.

Brushing with more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste more than once daily contributes to more than 70 percent of the fluorosis cases observed. The problem occurs primarily with young children, because they are more likely to swallow the toothpaste while brushing. Fluoride from the toothpaste is then absorbed by the body. Once fluorosis occurs, it is irreversible. However, teeth stained by fluorosis can be bonded or laminated to hide the disfiguration.

To reduce the chance of young children developing fluorosis:

  1. Supervise young children while they brush to make sure they do not swallow the paste.
  2. Use a dab of toothpaste smaller than a pea.
  3. Use fluoride-free toothpastes for toddlers just learning how to brush. Orajel training toothpastes come in fruit and bubblegum flavors. Once a child stops swallowing toothpaste, fluoride paste should be used.
  4. Toothpaste, like all drugs and medications, should be kept out of reach of toddlers.

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