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Your Kid Is Probably Using Too Much Toothpaste and It's Actually a Problem

Good Housekeeping logo Good Housekeeping 6/2/2019 Caroline Picard
Using too much fluoride toothpaste as a child can cause dental fluorosis, a condition characterized by white spots on the teeth and discoloration. Kids under 3 should use a smear and children between 3 and 6 should use a pea-sized amount. Teens and adults can also use a pea-sized amount, dentists say. © Getty Images Using too much fluoride toothpaste as a child can cause dental fluorosis, a condition characterized by white spots on the teeth and discoloration. Kids under 3 should use a smear and children between 3 and 6 should use a pea-sized amount. Teens and adults can also use a pea-sized amount, dentists say.
  • A new study by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that children are using too much toothpaste when they brush their teeth.
  • The wrong amount of toothpaste can damage developing teeth and cause pitting and discoloration.
  • Kids ages 2-3 should use a rice grain-sized amount, while kids ages 3 and up should use a pea-sized amount.

Kids using toothpaste: great. Kids using too much toothpaste: not so great. That's the message from a new Centers for Disease Control study that found many young children squeeze out way too much, and we're not talking about emptying the tube into the sink.

Using more than the recommended amount of fluoride toothpaste can actually damage developing teeth and cause pitting and discolorations, the CDC warns. Right now, nearly 40% of kids ages 3-6 use more than they need, a problem augmented by the fact this age group has yet to fully develop the reflex that prevents inadvertent swallowing.

How Much Toothpaste Kids Should Use

The American Dental Association recommends following these guidelines:

  • Kids ages 2-3: rice grain-sized smear
  • Kids ages 3 and older: pea-sized amount

In general, fluoride toothpaste protects teeth by preventing decay and cavities in two ways, explains Untray T. Brown, DDS, MPH, at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Center for Family Dental Medicine.

"When one eats a lot of carbs and sugar, the bacteria in your mouth produce acid and this acid weakens your teeth and eats away the enamel," he tells GoodHousekeeping.com. "Fluoride helps remineralize the tooth. Secondly, it helps kill the bacteria."

However, overdoing it on the fluoride at an early age can also cause a condition called dental fluorosis, or when the teeth undermineralize. It's most commonly characterized by faint white spots or streaking on teeth, but in severe cases it can lead to pitting, dark brown discoloration, and sometimes defects in the enamel.

Kids are most at risk for this because their smile is still developing. Teeth continue forming under the gums until about age 8, and even then it takes three years after a tooth erupts in the mouth for it to fully mature.

"For children, there's a constant growth process going on," Dr. Brown says.

"So to ingest a lot of fluoride during that period, that can interrupt the development of their tooth, specifically the enamel."

The American Dental Association advises that 3- to 6-year-olds use a a pea-sized dot, and kids under 3 stick to a smear the size of a grain of rice. But about 20% of 3- to 6-year-olds in the survey filled about half their toothbrush, and 18% loaded it fully. The data came from about 5,000 parents and caregivers, who answered questions on behalf of their children.

Adults can encourage good dental habits by starting to brush their children's teeth with toothpaste when teeth first appear, and continuing until they're at least 3.

Parents should then supervise brushing twice a day for two to three minutes a time until kids develop good hygiene habits on their own. To make sure they're brushing long enough, try singing "Happy Birthday" twice, using a timer, or queueing up a special brushing song on YouTube.

In general, adolescents and adults don't need that much toothpaste either. Dr. Brown advises spreading a thin ribbon across the top of the brush head - no big globs needed.

While fluorosis only really occurs in young children with developing teeth, cutting down your own usage could also make that tube last longer. Now you just have to convince everyone in the family to squeeze from the bottom, not the middle.

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