Unless you're a fan of bad breath and gum disease, brushing your teeth is one of the most important habits you’ll pick up as a kid. However, according to recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many children in the US are doing it wrong.
The new study looked at the tooth-cleaning habits of kids and teenagers across the US. Out of the 5,157 children in the study, nearly 40 percent of those aged 3 to 6 years were using way too much toothpaste.
You might think too much toothpaste is better than too little, but the CDC warns that kids using adult-sized toothpaste portions comes with its own perils. The main problem is ingesting too much fluoride while the teeth are still developing. This can lead to a lack of mineralization of the tooth’s enamel known as “fluorosis”, which can cause discoloration of the teeth and an unpleasant mottled appearance.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical found in food, drinking water, and toothpaste that helps to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. Fluoride also replaces lost minerals in teeth to help make them tougher. It’s a regular target for misguided and often bizarre conspiracy theories, but its negative effects are often overstated.
In this case, overdoing the fluoride is mainly a cosmetic problem.
“Fluoride is a wonderful benefit but it needs to be used carefully,” Dr Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago, told The Associated Press.
The survey also found that over a third, 34.2 percent, of the children age 3 to 15 years old only brushed their teeth once a day, not the recommended twice a day. Brushing your teeth might not be the most fun two minutes of your day, however, it's always worth making that tiny bit of effort to brush twice a day, not just once.
The new research also brings up some new guidance for parents. First of all, it’s worth supervising your kids, especially when they are just starting to brush their teeth. According to the CDC, children aged 3 and under should only use “a smear the size of a rice grain”, while kids between the ages of 3 and 6 should use no more than a pea-sized amount. The CDC also recommends parents do not introduce their children to fluoride toothpaste until they turn 2.
“You don’t want them eating it like food,” Dr Hayes added. “We want the parent to be in charge of the toothbrush and the toothpaste.”