‘My daughter would eat a while tube of toothpaste if I let her. Of course, I don’t, but she screams for more every time she sees the tube.’
Swallowing an occasional glob of toothpaste (most toddlers do at one time or another) won’t hurt your child, but chronic overindulgence can be toxic and it’s unwise to allow a toddler to ingest it in large quantities. Fluoride, it is not known, is one of those good things you can get too much of. Although a tiny amount helps strengthen a child’s teeth and reduces the risk of decay, large amounts can actually mottle, or stain, teeth permanently (a condition called ‘fluorosis’). And, some dentists recommend not using fluoride toothpaste at all on a child under two. Since a child between two and five can also swallow enough fluoride to harm teeth, it’s important to keep your toddler from indulging in toothpaste binges.
- A little dab’ll do. It really isn’t the toddler’s teeth, it’s the elbow grease. Most dentists agree that water does the job just as well as for toddlers, of not better (without all the foam in the way, you can see what you’re doing). Nor is toothpaste necessary for its fluoride content; most children of this age get their fluoride from other sources. Still many toddlers won’t brush without the flavour of kick of toothpaste. If your is one of them, use just a pea-size dab of toothpaste on her. Spread it out and press it into the bristles so that she can’t lick it off. And make it clear to her that the toothpaste is for cleaning teeth like soap is for cleaning hands; it’s not for eating.
- Rinsing is critical. Rinsing the toothpaste, as well as loosened bits of food, out of the mouth is an integral part of the brushing process. Teach your toddler how to swish the water around in her mouth, then spit it out. Most toddlers can manage this at around two years of age. A child who isn’t yet able to rinse should not use fluoride toothpaste at all.
- Out of sight, out of mind – and mouth. A toothpaste tube left by the sink is too great at temptation for your toddler to resist. Instead, keep the toothpaste hidden – even locked away, if necessary – in the medicine cabinet. Apply the toothpaste to her brush, then quickly stash the tube before you invite her to brush, to help avoid cries for second helpings.
Even if you take the precaution of spreading the toothpaste onto the brush, your toddler may still manage to suck it off the bristles. If she does this, or if she continues to scream for more, eliminate the toothpaste from the brushing ritual completely for now. Explain that as long as she tries to eat the toothpaste or keeps crying for more, she can’t have any on her brush. Or switch to a baby gum and tooth cleaner, which doesn’t contain fluoride and is safe if swallowed. Tell her that when she can brush without swallowing and rinse when she can use the family toothpaste again.
‘My son can’t stand the taste of toothpaste, and resists brushing because of it. Doesn’t he need the fluoride in it?’
Toothpaste adds colour, flavour, fresh taste and suds to the toothbrushing process but brushing with plain water works just as well. And as far as the fluoride is concerned, your toddler probably gets enough right now from drinking water, topical applications at the dentist, and/or his vitamin/mineral supplement.
If the taste of the toothpaste you use is turning your toddler off brushing, try other brands; there are some that come in child-friendly flavors (and packaging). If none appeal, just skip the stuff entirely for the time being.