When my son turned around nine months one of the big conversations in my mommy Whatsapp group was whether or not to start brushing babies’ teeth with fluoride toothpaste or not. All the toothpastes I’ve seen with fluoride said that they were for ages two and over and yet my pediatrician said to use fluoride toothpaste and ignore that fact.
So what’s the deal? The concern is if young children swallow “too much” fluoride – we all know a nine month old isn’t brushing and rinsing, so in my mind if the point of brushing at this young age is simply to start forming a healthy habit, why bother with fluoride? But was I correct?
To find out more I chatted with Dr. Brian Harris, DDS/DMD, SNOW and Frost Oral Care’s lead medical advisor, about all things baby and teeth brushing.
Momtastic: When should parents brush a baby’s teeth?
I think the sooner you are able to start brushing their teeth, the better. There are small finger toothbrushes that can be used on infants and toddlers. They are gentle on the gums and clean the teeth while allowing the baby to get used to the sensation of something tickling and rubbing on their gums. This will make the transition to a kid’s toothbrush much easier.
Momtastic: Any tips on how and what toothbrush to use? How long and how often?
Dr. Brian Harris: I think the best toothbrushes for kids are ones that have softer bristles and some sort of fun design that is going to get them excited to brush their teeth. The same principles apply to choosing the best kid’s toothpaste, if it tastes good and looks fun, kids are much more likely to use it. Their mouths are more sensitive to strong minty flavors, stick with bubblegum or other sweet flavors. The goal is for kids to brush at least twice a day for two minutes each time. When they wake up and before they go to bed is ideal.
Momtastic: What are your thoughts on fluoride for babies/toddlers/kids?
Dr. Brian Harris: I think fluoride should be used for babies and toddlers on an as needed basis. A small smear of fluoride toothpaste daily from when the first baby tooth appears until the age of three is recommended for cavity prone children. After the age of three, regular use of fluoride toothpaste is recommended for children that have a history of cavities.
Momtastic: What about fluoride for babies? Isn’t there a danger of babies swallowing the toothpaste?
Dr. Brian Harris: There is always a danger to overusing fluoride in children, so just make sure you as a parent are the one dispensing the toothpaste. A pea sized drop of toothpaste used when brushing is a safe amount. The risk of not using a toothpaste with fluoride can sometimes mean more risk for cavities and extensive dental work in the future.
Momtastic: I see a bunch of very sweet, flavored toothpastes, are those safe? Do parents need to be looking at ingredients?
Dr. Brian Harris: Most toothpaste brands are safe to use with children as long as it is in moderation. For years the ADA recommended fluoride for ages two and up, but in 2014 that changed and they allowed a little bit to be used when it is necessary.
Momtastic: At what age do kids need to start going to the dentist and how often?
Dr. Brian Harris: The ideal scenario would be to see a dentist before they turn one or six months after their first tooth comes in.
Momtastic: What are the dangers of delaying starting to brush teeth? Is it just getting the toddler in habit of brushing or does it go beyond that?
Dr. Brian Harris: The end goal is to prevent cavities from starting. It is much easier to prevent cavities than it is to maintain or fix them when they are present, so the sooner you start to form these habits with your children, the better. The younger they are when they start brushing their teeth, the easier it is for them to adapt when they are older.