Back when my neighbor's kids were still toddlers, I used to babysit all the time, usually around bedtime. Their bedtime routine was no different than any other toddler's, but one thing that I did notice was that they used a non-fluoride charcoal toothpaste to brush their teeth. I eventually pieced together that this was because the youngest son had a habit of not only drinking the sink water, but also eating the toothpaste.
If you're concerned your toddler might do this too, board-certified dentists Emily Hahn, DDS of Skyview Pediatric Dentistry and Angela Ly, DDS, dentist at Your Smile Clinic are here to address everything related to toddlers accidentally swallowing toothpaste.
Why Do Toddlers Swallow Toothpaste?
There are two primary reasons toddlers swallow toothpaste. It's either because they don't know how or when to spit, or they think the toothpaste tastes good. Using toothpaste flavors like bubblegum and watermelon may encourage teeth brushing, but they can also encourage snack time. According to Dr. Ly, it all depends on your approach. "If this habit hasn't been developed from a young age, it may feel like a chore to brush," she told POPSUGAR. To find a balance between yummy toothpaste and toothpaste that makes your toddler feel like they're at the dentist, look for milder flavors that are sweet but not too sweet, or ones that taste plain, but have fun designs from their favorite movie, like Frozen or Finding Nemo.
If swallowing toothpaste still seems to be an issue despite using milder flavored toothpastes, it might be because they're having trouble spitting. "Most kids are not great spitters if you haven't noticed," Dr. Hahn told POPSUGAR. Show your toddler an example of how to do it properly, and if they don't catch on immediately, just have them lean their head forward over the sink and let it dribble out so that they don't swallow. To minimize the risk of accidentally swallowing too much, make sure you're using the right amount of toothpaste. "It's important to use something called a smear — not a rice, not a pea-sized amount, but a smear of toothpaste," Dr. Hahn said. Toddlers need less toothpaste than you think!
Is It Safe For Toddlers to Swallow Non-Fluoride Toothpaste?
While non-fluoride toothpaste is safe to swallow, both Dr. Ly and Dr. Hahn agree that it's not quite as effective compared to fluoride in terms of dental health. Fluoride is one of the main ways to fight tooth decay, so if a toothpaste says safe to swallow or fluoride free, it's unfortunately not going to reduce decay as well.
However, non-fluoride toothpaste isn't necessarily a no-no, according to Dr. Hahn. "The reality is, not everyone actually has to have fluoride," she said. If you're worried about your child using too much fluoride, consult your dentist, because they might be OK with you switching to a fluoride alternative. "What we can do is evaluate what the dental cavity risk is for your child," she said. "If your child has a lot of spacing in between their teeth, if there's no history of cavities in your family, and they don't drink juice or soda or any of those sugary drinks, they may not need fluoride."
What Should I Do If My Toddler Swallows Fluoride Toothpaste?
To counteract the fluoride, give your toddler milk or yogurt, as the calcium will bind with the fluoride. Do not however bother forcing your toddler to throw up, because it's unlikely that they will experience negative side effects beyond a slight stomach ache. If they've eaten an amount as significant as the entire tube, the safest bet is to call Poison Control, but consuming fluoride isn't the end of the world, according to Dr. Ly and Dr. Hahn. Whenever you buy toothpaste in the future, just make sure it has the American Dental Association sealed acceptance. As Dr. Ly pointed out, "It goes without saying that preventing this from occurring is a much better option than having to treat it."