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Kids and Tooth Care

Father and son brushing teeth

Your child is probably using too much toothpaste. That's the finding of a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommended amount of toothpaste for children between the ages of two and six is about the size of a pea. And children younger than two should use even less. "They should use basically what we call a smear," said Hans Reinemer, DMD, a pediatric dental specialist with University of Utah Health. "It's a tiny amount, maybe the size of a grain of rice on a toothbrush."

The active ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride, a mineral that helps to prevent decay in teeth and strengthen enamel. A little goes a long way though, and too much can lead to a condition called fluorosis that results in brown and yellow streaks or blotches on the permanent teeth. Most of us avoid fluorosis even if we are using too much toothpaste (and we are, just like our kids) because we swish and spit after we brush. "We find that most young children just don't have the ability to swish and spit the excess out," said Reinemer. "So, it's better to limit the overall amount."

The best way to make sure your child isn't using too much toothpaste is to supervise them while they brush. This time also gives you a chance to model overall good dental hygiene. "Parents need to stay involved to make sure that they're hitting all the spots, but also make sure that they're spending enough time," said Reinemer. "Then they can also supervise how much toothpaste is going on the brush at the same time."

Supervising your child's tooth brushing is only one part of making sure they have a healthy dental routine. The baby teeth are very important for growth and development, speech, chewing, and self-esteem. You also need to help them establish a relationship with a pediatric dentist - ideally around the age of one. "The education of how to take care of a child's teeth needs to happen early," said Reinemer. "Although baby teeth eventually fall out, kids can suffer quite significantly from dental decay with resulting pain and infection. So it's important to start early and set good dental habits that can last a lifetime."