We worry so much about what our kids eat, but we also should worry about what they don’t eat—toothpaste and other dental products! Even though children don’t (and shouldn’t) ingest oral hygiene products, these products do get absorbed by our little ones in small amounts, and can contain chemicals, which is why it really matters which products you use.
The sheer array of kid dental products might be overwhelming, but the good news is, the sheer variety means you can find products that are safe, strengthen and protect little chompers against decay, and delight your little one’s picky palate.
Here’s a buying guide for choosing the right product for your child.
The fluoride debate
For decades, fluoride in toothpaste has been praised for its ability to prevent tooth decay and cavities—but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily stock up on toothpastes containing this natural mineral, especially for little kids. Because this ingredient can be harmful if ingested in large quantities, fluoride products aren’t recommended for kids under the age of 2. For these little ones, products like Xclear Baby by Spry (which has all-natural xylitol as its active ingredient) or Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel (which gets its plaque-fighting power from the extract from the calendula flower) are your safest bet.
But even for older children, there’s quite a bit of a debate about whether fluoride is safe, because of a controversial study linking higher levels of fluoride in public water systems with lower scores on intelligence test. Now I can tell you that my dentist did not have kind words for this study—and that my 10-year-old and 7-year-old use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, Tom’s of Maine Children’s Natural Fluoride Toothpaste (in yummy “silly strawberry”) and I haven’t had a cavity yet between the two of them (and are pretty smart, too!).
If you’re worried about fluoride, though, Tom’s makes the same yummy strawberry flavor in a fluoride-free option. Kiss My Face Kids also has a fluoride-free version that contains stevia for a natural, sugar-free sweetness kids love.
As pure as it gets
If you really want to make sure your child isn’t exposed to any artificial ingredients, you don’t want toothpaste at all…you want Earth Paste for Kids, which is actually edible! It’s got no fluoride, no glycerin, doesn’t have foaming agents and doesn’t even have artificial coloring (it’s a beige hue). What’s in it? Essential oils, sea salt and clay. (And think about all of those times you told your child not to eat clay!) The lemony flavor is mild enough not to offend young palates.
You don’t need to wait for all of those pearly whites to emerge to start the important habit of brushing twice a day—in fact, it’s a good idea to clean infant gums with a gentle silicone brush like the Green Sprouts Silicone Finger Brush, which conveniently slips on your finger and can be used with water or with infant toothpaste.
As teeth come in and your little one develops the fine motor skills to be able to handle a toothbrush on his own, you can get a mini-version of the toothbrush you use on your own teeth. Just make sure you choose one with soft bristles. Made in Germany, Smile Bunnies’ adorable, BPA-free toothbrush is specifically designed to fit firmly in a child’s hand to build confidence and pride in this important part in the daily routine.
With the right tools and the right attitude, you and your little one will be on the right path towards dental health—and that’s really something to smile about!
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 10.