Making the right choices about oral health is hard enough as an adult. From dental health and sleep to choosing a toothpaste, it can all feel like a lot. You might find yourself in the dental hygiene aisle trying to pick a toothpaste for your one-year-old or thinking, “Can kids use adult toothpaste?” Let’s take a closer look at the difference between kids’ toothpaste and adults’ toothpaste, and how to choose the right one.
When to Start Brushing Kids’ Teeth
Start the “brushing” routine with your baby before they even have teeth by wiping down their gums twice per day with a clean, damp cloth. This helps establish an oral hygiene routine and wipes away bacteria from your baby’s gums. Once your baby’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to start brushing. Use a soft-bristled infant toothbrush and water, with a dab of kids’ toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) to brush those new little teeth. But how do you know which toothpaste to use?
What to Consider When Choosing Kids’ Toothpaste
Whether you’re choosing toothpaste for a one-year-old or a six-year-old, it’s important to consider several things. First, babies and toddlers are not able to spit toothpaste out, so you’ll need to use a toothpaste specifically designed for young children. Additionally, some adult toothpastes are focused on sensitivity or whitening, which young children don’t need. From there, consider what will make your child feel interested in or excited about brushing.
The Differences Between Adults’ and Children’s Toothpaste
You might be wondering, “Can kids use adult toothpaste?” Also, “Can adults use kids’ toothpaste?” That depends on the toothpaste itself. Toothpaste formulated specifically for adults and for kids are different in several ways. Some of those differences are significant, while others are merely cosmetic. A toothpaste for a two-year-old is probably not ideal for an adult, while some adult toothpastes may be fine for kids. It can be helpful to understand the differences in the formulas to help you choose the right ones for your family. Here’s what to look out for.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps strengthen the teeth’s enamel. It can be a powerful tool in fighting tooth decay—which is why it’s added to our drinking water—but must also be used responsibly to avoid side effects from excess consumption.
When children under the age of eight get too much fluoride, it can cause dental fluorosis, which leads to white spots or streaks on the teeth. In very rare cases, fluoride poisoning can occur when too much fluoride is consumed in a very short period of time. This can cause gastrointestinal distress, irregular heartbeat, and more serious symptoms in severe cases.
Because of this, toothpaste for one-year-olds to three-year-olds usually doesn’t contain fluoride at all, while most kids’ toothpastes are formulated with lower fluoride content. Since kids have to learn how to spit properly and younger kids often swallow toothpaste, it’s designed with this in mind. Fluoride content can increase as children become more adept at brushing and spitting thoroughly. So, can adults use kids’ toothpaste? It’s typically not ideal. Adult teeth have different needs, and using a toothpaste without adequate protection or cleaning power could impact your teeth.
Safe to Swallow
The primary concern in terms of swallowing is still the fluoride content, which is why the quantity of fluoride toothpaste used is significant. Until children are three years old, use a dab the size of a grain of rice. The amount of toothpaste for three-year-olds to six-year-olds should be about the size of a pea. Once your child can spit their toothpaste out properly, a regular ribbon the length of the toothbrush is advised, though parents should still be present while children brush to ensure that they’re not swallowing their toothpaste. If your child is not yet adept at spitting toothpaste out, ask your dentist what type of toothpaste is best.
When you’re asking, “Can kids use adult toothpaste?” consider the abrasiveness of the toothpaste. Most adult toothpaste formulas are more abrasive to counteract adult habits, like smoking or drinking coffee and tea. While adults may seek to whiten their teeth, children rarely have this type of staining and so don’t need these higher levels of abrasives. Some dental trends, like highly abrasive charcoal toothpaste, can also be problematic. Children’s teeth may be more prone to abrasive damage, so abrasive toothpaste could actually harm them.
Range of Flavors
Most adult toothpastes come in strong flavors like mint, which children may not like or find to be too strong and “spicy.” Because of this, most children’s toothpastes come in a variety of sweeter flavors that are more appealing to children, like fruit flavors or bubblegum.
If the flavor, sweetness, or even the appearance of the toothpaste makes your child more willing to brush their teeth, that’s the important thing. Monitor children even with kids’ toothpaste to ensure they use the right amount of toothpaste for their age and don’t swallow it.
When Can Kids Use Adult Toothpaste?
Now that you know the difference between adult and kid toothpaste, when can kids use adult toothpaste? At around age six, it’s fine for children to begin using an adult toothpaste as long as they are able to spit properly. You don’t want your child swallowing a bunch of fluoride toothpaste, so if your child isn’t able to spit well yet, or swallows their toothpaste, practice spitting. Then talk to your dentist about whether to continue using a kids’ toothpaste or to go ahead and make the switch.
To learn more about making the right choices for your kids’ dental health and how that can affect their lifelong health, sign up to be notified when Dr. Kami Hoss’ book If Your Mouth Could Talk is released. You’ll discover how vital oral health really is to every child and adult.