CDC officials examined data from a national survey of more than 5,000 parents and guardians of children aged 3 to 15. The questionnaire asked the respondents about when their children started to brush their teeth (without and with toothpaste), how often they brushed each day and the amount of toothpaste they used.
They found that, among the families surveyed, 40 percent of children aged 3 to 6 were using too much toothpaste.
That’s a concern, the CDC officials explain. Although fluoride toothpaste had been instrumental in reducing tooth decay in the United States, swallowing too much of it when teeth are developing can cause the enamel that coats teeth to become discolored and pitted.
Young children often swallow toothpaste instead of spitting it out, the officials point out.
How much toothpaste is too much? Children under age 3 should be brushing with only a “smear” of toothpaste — an amount no bigger than the size of a grain of rice, the CDC officials say. And children aged 3 to 6 should be using no more than a pea-sized amount.
To make sure children don’t exceed those amounts, health officials strongly recommend that parents supervise their young children’s tooth-brushing sessions.
The study also found that 80 percent of parents start brushing their children’s teeth later than recommended. Health experts generally advise parents to start brushing their child’s teeth when the first tooth erupts, which is usually around six months or so.
Early brushing can be done with a clean, damp cloth. As more teeth come in, a switch can be made to a small, soft toothbrush. Toothpaste needn’t be introduced until the child is 2 years old — unless your child’s doctor or dentist recommends it.
The survey also found that about a third of the children in the families surveyed — 34 percent — brushed their teeth only once a day. Health officials say that children should brush at least twice a day to reduce the risk of cavities.
Overall, though, parents are doing a pretty good job at making sure their children are brushing their teeth. It’s just the details of the twice-daily ritual that need a bit more attention.
“The findings suggest that children and adolescents are engaging in appropriate daily preventive dental health practices; however, implementation of recommendations is not optimal,” the CDC officials write. “Health care professionals and their organizations have an opportunity to educate parents and caregivers about recommended toothbrushing practices to ensure that children are getting the maximum preventive effect.”
FMI: The CDC report was published in the Feb. 1 issue of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, where it can be read in full. You’ll also find more information on protecting your children’s teeth at the “Oral Health” section of the CDC’s website.