Choosing the Best Toothpaste for Kids

With so many different types of children’s toothpaste available, choosing the best toothpaste for your kids can seem overwhelming. What are all of those mysterious ingredients in children’s toothpastes? How do you know which ingredients you want and which you should avoid?

This article is not intended to recommend any specific toothpaste as the “best kids’ toothpaste,” but rather to provide some basic information about various types of ingredients commonly found in children’s toothpaste. The goal here is to demystify the ingredient list a bit and help you make more informed choices when choosing a toothpaste for your child. In particular, this article provides a basic overview of the following ingredients and types of ingredients in kids’ toothpastes:

Fluoride in Kids’ Toothpaste

One of the first choices you’ll have to make when buying toothpaste for your child is whether to get fluoridated toothpaste or fluoride-free toothpaste.

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is extremely effective at helping to prevent cavities in children’s teeth. In fact, fluoride is so helpful at preventing tooth decay that the CDC named community water fluoridation (i.e., adding fluoride to community drinking water) one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Because of fluoride’s impressive anti-cavity properties, both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend brushing children’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste.

Is Fluoridated Toothpaste Safe for Kids?

Some parents worry about the safety of using fluoride on their children’s teeth. The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry all agree that, when used appropriately, fluoride is both safe for children and beneficial for their teeth.

However, as with most minerals, while fluoride is beneficial at low doses, ingesting too much fluoride can lead to harmful effects such as fluorosis (a dental enamel defect). As a result, it is important to closely monitor your child’s toothbrushing and to use no more than the recommended amounts of toothpaste for young children (no more than a grain-of-rice-sized amount for children under 3 and no more than a pea-sized amount for children between the ages of 3 and 6). Once your child is old enough, encourage your child to spit out toothpaste after brushing rather than swallowing it.

Abrasive Ingredients in Kids’ Toothpaste

What Are Abrasive Ingredients in Children’s Toothpastes?

Toothpastes typically contain abrasive ingredients to help scrub off food particles and dental plaque and to remove surface-level stains from children’s teeth. Common examples of such abrasive ingredients include calcium carbonate, silica gels and aluminum oxide.

Note that some tubes of children’s toothpaste still advertise that they do not contain microbeads. Microbeads are a type of microplastic – that is, a tiny piece of plastic – that were once used as an abrasive ingredient in toothpaste. However, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 made it illegal to intentionally add microbeads to toothpaste in the United States due to environmental concerns: when you spit out a toothpaste containing microbeads, the plastic particles go down the drain and may be too small to get filtered out by water treatment plants, meaning that all those little pieces of plastic end up in lakes and oceans. Therefore, as of the date of this blog post, no U.S. toothpastes should contain microbeads.

Do Abrasive Ingredients in Toothpaste Damage Children’s Dental Enamel?

While abrasive ingredients are helpful for cleaning teeth, an overly abrasive toothpaste can be too harsh on a child’s dental enamel (the protective outer layer of a child’s tooth), wearing the enamel down over time. One way to help ensure your child is not using an overly abrasive toothpaste is to look for toothpastes with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. The ADA developed the Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) scale to quantify the abrasiveness of different toothpastes. In order for a toothpaste to earn the ADA Seal of Acceptance, it must have an RDA value that is low enough to be considered safe for lifelong use.

Also keep in mind that, even with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, whitening toothpastes are often more abrasive than non-whitening toothpastes. In general, we recommend avoiding whitening toothpastes when selecting a toothpaste for your child.

Detergents in Kids’ Toothpaste

What Are Detergents in Children’s Toothpastes?

Detergents are used as cleaning and foaming agents in children’s toothpaste. You know how when you start brushing, most toothpastes get foamy and bubbly? That’s because of foaming agents.

Foaming agents help make it easy to spread the toothpaste around your child’s teeth so that all of the teeth get cleaned (although, of course, there are some parts of the tooth that a toothbrush cannot reach, which is why it is important to floss as soon as your child has teeth that are touching).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in Kids’ Toothpaste

The most common detergent used in children’s toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Although sulfates have received a lot of negative attention in recent years, the Dental Plaque Subcommittee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee has concluded that SLS is a safe and effective foaming agent in toothpaste.

However, some studies suggest that SLS can cause soft tissue irritation in certain children’s mouths. As an example, studies have found that SLS may increase the number or severity of canker sores in children with aphthous stomatitis (i.e., children who are prone to canker sores).

Note that sodium lauryl sulfate can go by a variety of different names, so determining whether your child’s toothpaste contains SLS may not be as easy as you’d think. A few of the alternative names for SLS include sodium monolauryl sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulfate, and sulfuric acid monododecyl ester sodium salt.

If you are concerned that your child’s toothpaste may be causing soft tissue irritation, talk to your child’s pediatric dentist.

Sweeteners in Kids’ Toothpaste

Have you ever wondered why children’s toothpastes taste so good? All those fun flavors are the result of a combination of natural and/or artificial flavorings plus sweeteners.

Of course, children’s toothpaste should never be sweetened with sugar, since cavity-causing bacteria love sugar. Instead, toothpaste manufacturers turn to a variety of sugar substitutes. Common examples of such sugar substitutes include saccharin, sorbitol, and xylitol.

Xylitol in particular has been extensively studied over the last several decades with regards to its potential as a tooth-friendly sugar substitute. While cariogenic (i.e., cavity-causing) bacteria consume sugar and then produce an acidic waste product that damages children’s teeth, they cannot readily metabolize xylitol, meaning that consuming xylitol does not increase a child’s risk of developing cavities.

Some studies even suggest that, not only does xylitol not cause cavities, but it may actually reduce cavities in children. However, the evidence on this is inconclusive and further study is needed.

Kids’ Dentist in Hurst, TX

We hope that, after reading this article, the next time you look for toothpaste for your child, you will feel more informed and better able to decide which ingredients you prefer. If you have specific questions or concerns about your child’s toothpaste, talk to your child’s pediatric dentist. Hurst Pediatric Dentistry’s Dr. Jin Lin is a board-certified pediatric dentist who places a strong emphasis on preventative children’s dentistry. To schedule a dental checkup for your child, call our office at (817) 510-6400.

Hurst Pediatric Dentistry is located in Hurst, Texas, and serves patients from Hurst and the surrounding area, including Fort Worth, Euless, Bedford, Colleyville, Keller, Southlake and Irving.

This article is intended to provide general information about oral health topics. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition or as a substitute for the advice of a healthcare professional who is fully aware of and familiar with the specifics of your case. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with regard to any questions you may have relating to a medical condition or treatment.


Dr. Jin Lin

Doctor Jin Lin, Board Certified Pediatric Dentist

Dr. Jin Lin is a board-certified pediatric dentist with a passion for helping children achieve healthier, more beautiful smiles. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University and his Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. After graduating cum laude from dental school, he completed his post-doctoral pediatric dentistry training at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, where he served as chief resident and worked with children with a wide variety of special medical and dental needs, including children with rare syndromes.