Dental Group: Start Kids Brushing Early to Prevent Cavities

Last week, the American Dental Association issued a new guideline recommending that children begin using fluoride toothpaste at a very young age—a change that underscores the differing advice the public gets from experts on the issue.

It’s never too early to start giving those teeth a brush.

That’s according to the American Dental Association, which last week updated its guidelines on fluoride usage for infants in the Journal of the American Dental Association [subscription].

Instead of waiting until children turn 2 to begin brushing their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, ADA now suggests that parents start infants off as soon as they show signs of teething—albeit with a tiny amount, about the size of a grain of rice. (The amount children ages 3 to 6 should use remains the same: a pea-sized drop.)

A rise in cavities among very young children caused the ADA’s policy change. More than 16 million children suffer from untreated tooth decay each year, a huge burden on both them and their parents; they miss millions of hours of school and work as a result.

“Approximately 25 percent of children have or had cavities before entering kindergarten, so it’s important to provide guidance to caregivers on the appropriate use of fluoride toothpaste to help prevent their children from developing cavities,” Dr. Edmond L. Truelove, who chairs ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs, said in a press release.

Another change of note: The ADA now recommends that youngsters spit out excess toothpaste instead of swallowing it.


The ADA guideline could help clear things up for parents, but differing standards from dental and healthcare authorities have clouded the issue in the past, and that could persist.

Even before the ADA made its early-use recommendation, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry had been advising the practice, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  current standard [PDF] for toothpaste use by children is similar to the one the ADA just changed.

The mixed messages the public gets include those on the toothpaste tubes themselves, The Times notes. A statement advises parents of children under age 2 to consult a dentist about use. However, Dr. Man Wai Ng, the dentist in chief at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that message could backfire, with parents deciding their youngsters aren’t old enough to use fluoride toothpaste and skipping the dentist visit entirely.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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