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Your Kids Are Using Too Much Toothpaste, and It’s Making Their Teeth All Nasty-Like

The big dollop you see on the toothpaste commercials is way (WAY!) too much

Think of the children, and think of their smol teeth! More than 38 percent of youngsters between ages three and six are using too much toothpaste, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their chompers are in grave danger as a result.

The American Dental Association (ADA) specifically recommends that children between ages three and six apply no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to their toothbrush. Children under the age of three, meanwhile, are supposed to use no more than a rice-sized amount of toothpaste. However, this new report found that only 49.2 percent of kids between ages three and six use the correct amount, while 12 percent apply a smear, 20.6 percent cover half their toothbrush and 17.8 percent pile their bristles with the stuff.

The problem is, when kids use too much toothpaste, they tend to swallow a lot of fluoride, which can damage their enamel (the hard, outer surface of the teeth). “The fluoride can get incorporated into their enamel and cause something called fluorosis,” explains pediatric dentist Jonathan Shenkin, who serves as a spokesperson for the ADA. “Fluorosis typically shows up as little white streaks that aren’t visible to people, but a small percentage of people — two or three percent — have very severe fluorosis that looks brown and pitted.”

While using fluoride-free toothpaste might seem like a simple fix to this issue, Shenkin adamantly warns against going down that route. “We want to make sure that parents don’t stop using fluoride toothpaste in an attempt to avoid getting the exposure,” he says. “Avoiding the use of toothpaste with fluoride will significantly increase your children’s risk of tooth decay, and we don’t want that.”

In fact, as the CDC points out in their report, “Fluoride use 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.” So yeah — simply using less fluoride toothpaste when you brush is a much better bet than switching over to fluoride-free toothpaste completely.

On the plus side, though, we adults don’t really have to worry about using too much toothpaste. “I was just wondering the other day about how many studies have been done on adults swallowing toothpaste, and there was only one done by Procter & Gamble like 40 years ago, because it’s not an issue,” Shenkin says. Even if you do end up swallowing a bunch of toothpaste, Shenkin explains that fluorosis only occurs in teeth that haven’t developed yet, which means adults are in the clear.

All that said, adults only really need to use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when they brush, which means you might be able to save yourself a few trips to the drugstore by not loading your toothbrush like they do in the commercials. But then again, as long as it isn’t making your teeth all brown and shit, how much toothpaste you use probably isn’t worth worrying about.