The news media has extensively publicized the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announcement that some children are using “too much fluoride” toothpaste. Some media headlines declare that the amounts used are “unhealthy” and create a frightening tone around an important daily activity. Just what has the CDC said on this subject?
Most Are Doing Just Fine!
The CDC report used parental surveys to determine just how much toothpaste their children are using. Although self-reporting is always a questionable method of gathering data (For example, a subject may internally say: “I want to make the researchers happy, so I’ll say we use a lot of toothpaste!”), this was the system employed for the report. Even the CDC acknowledged the potential problem with biased responses during self-reported surveys. Nevertheless, their scientists had sufficient faith in the results to publish their findings, and the good news is that the survey shows that many families are using the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
The critical age group for regulating fluoride toothpaste usage is children at six years of age and below. Before the age of six, children have a difficult time controlling their ability to swallow. This age group is therefore the most likely to see dental fluorosis (staining of the teeth) if they use too much fluoride. Therefore, it’s important that these youngsters not use too much toothpaste. Fortunately, over 60% of children from the age of 3-6 use just the right amount of fluoride toothpaste when they brush — anywhere from a slight smear to a pea-sized drop.
On the other hand, the results suggest that half the remaining children make their toothpaste look just like the picture on the box — a full-toothbrush, covered from end to end by juicy toothpaste. The other 20% are not quite as aggressive, but they still use a generous squirt that covers at least half the toothbrush. These amounts of toothpaste are simply overdoing it.
From the age of 7 onward, it’s not as likely for children to swallow any excess toothpaste. They just are using way more than they need to get the important task of brushing their teeth done. In effect, they’re just wasting toothpaste. As for dental fluorosis, to call this problem “unhealthy,” as suggested by some headlines, is misleading. Fluorosis is primarily a cosmetic issue, and only in the most severe cases does it lead to problems that require dental correction. Most Sacramento dentists never see such cases of fluorosis, since the amounts of fluoride in our water follow federal regulations and local wells and rivers contains minimal amounts of natural fluoride minerals.
So while you should monitor the toothbrushing habits of your children under the age of six, and make sure that they use no more than a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste, do not succumb to fear or worry about establishing regular oral hygiene habits in your household. Brushing the teeth at least twice a day is vital for good dental health!