Fluoride is great for helping prevent cavities, but ingesting too much of it can cause discoloration and pitting in children's developing teeth.

happy toddler brushing teeth
Credit: alekso94/Shutterstock

February 4, 2019

We used to encourage our kids to glob on the toothpaste, but apparently, too much of a good thing really can be bad.

According to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 38 percent of children between the ages of three and six are using more than the recommended amount of toothpaste. The problem here is that these little ones haven't necessarily developed their swallowing reflexes, so when they use too much toothpaste, they could end up inadvertently ingesting too much of the fluoride that's in it.

Children under three only need "a smear [of toothpaste] the size of a rice grain," and kids between three and six "should use no more than a pea-sized amount," according to the CDC recommendations. Any more than this can be detrimental to dental health, because the "ingestion of too much fluoride while teeth are developing can result in visibly detectable changes in enamel structure such as discoloration and pitting."

None of this is to say, though, that toothpastes with fluoride aren't a good thing. The same CDC report that warns kids could be ingesting too much fluoride points out that the use of it "is one of the main factors responsible for the decline in prevalence and severity of dental caries and cavities (tooth decay) in the United States." And the CDC recommends children begin using a fluoride toothpaste beginning at age two (but brush their teeth—and gums—even before that).

The fact that some kids are using too much toothpaste is at least a sign that they're brushing regularly! As the CDC puts it, the study's findings show children "are engaging in appropriate daily preventive dental health practices; however, implementation of recommendations is not optimal."

Fortunately, there's a pretty simple fix: Parents, supervise how much toothpaste they're using. This way, by the time kids are old enough to brush on their own (usually around age six), they'll recognize what the recommended amount of toothpaste actually looks like.

Developing good dental health habits early on is important, and brushing correctly together twice a day is a great way to do just that.