Baby & Kid Toothpaste vs Adult Toothpaste Explained for Parents

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My wife always jokes that if there’s a Hell, it involves brushing a toddler’s teeth over and over for all of eternity.

Can’t say I disagree!

Keeping your kid’s teeth clean is tough. They can’t sit still, they LOVE sugar, and you need to keep a steady supply of special toothpaste.

Or do you?

What’s actually the difference between baby and kid toothpaste vs regular adult toothpaste? Do you need to buy special toothpaste or can everyone in your household use the same?

Children’s toothpaste is almost exactly the same as adult toothpaste except it contains less fluoride, the key ingredient in fighting cavities. It also comes in more palatable flavors for kids, like bubblegum or fruit. It’s usually fine for adults and children over 6 to use each other’s toothpastes every now and then! Just be aware of any special ingredients in grown-up toothpaste like whiteners, etc.

And as always, your best bet is to consult with a dentist about your specific child’s needs.

But there’s SO much more to know about children’s toothpaste, the great fluoride debate, and more. Let’s take a look!

How does toothpaste work & what’s in adult toothpaste?

There are essentially three elements that go into your standard, run-of-the-mill toothpaste.

Abrasives are agents inside the paste that work to dislodge and agitate food particles and bacteria in your mouth. They bring those particles out of hiding, getting into cracks and crevices between teeth.

And they work to loosen the grip that food and bacteria have on the surface of your teeth, making those particles easier to brush away.

Then comes the fluoride. This is the heavy hitter, that helps to neutralize the acidity in your mouth and help build your mouth’s ability to withstand acid in the future.

Managing acid levels in your mouth is critically important! Acid will erode your enamel over time, causing massive dental problems. So most experts advise people to stay far, far away from so-called “natural,” fluoride-free toothpaste products.

(Despite what many think, fluoride is actually a totally natural ingredient.)

Finally, raw fluoride and abrasives wouldn’t taste so great, which could make us want to avoid brushing our teeth. So almost all toothpastes have sweetening agents and flavoring to make them taste like mint, cinnamon, and more.

These elements are present in almost all dentist-approved toothpastes.

Some specialty products might offer other ingredients depending on their function, like:

  • Whitening
  • Tartar control
  • Sensitivity
  • And more

But what happens when you move on over to the kids section of the aisle — how do the toothpastes you find there, with Spongebob and Paw Patrol all over the box, differ from the regular stuff?

Baby & Kid Toothpaste Explained

Toothpaste designed and marketed for children or babies really only has one functional difference when compared to adult toothpaste:

Children’s toothpaste almost always contains less fluoride than the adult stuff.

Now, that seems weird, right?

If fluoride is the most important ingredient in toothpaste and helps build stronger teeth, why would we want LESS of it in our kid’s toothpaste?

The main reason is that too much fluoride exposure can cause white streaky spots on teeth, and when teeth are young and still developing, this is a greater risk.

Of course, these streaks (called fluorosis) are mostly cosmetic and can be fixed by a dentist, we’d all rather not have to worry about them!

So baby and kid’s toothpaste does contain just enough fluoride to keep teeth strong and healthy, but not enough to risk fluorosis.

The one caveat worth mentioning here is something called Training Toothpaste and/or Teething Toothpaste.

These are toothpastes for babies that either don’t have teeth yet or are just developing their first teeth and aren’t eating much (if any) solid food.

Training Toothpaste is usually fluoride-free and safe if baby accidentally swallows some, and it can be rubbed on the gums with a finger or soft-rubber brush to care for the gums and “practice” for real teeth-brushing.

It’s also worth mentioning that most children don’t enjoy the minty taste of adult toothpaste, so kid toothpaste will offer different flavors like fruit or bubblegum.

You can also sometimes find a “transition” toothpaste that uses a more grown-up minty flavor, just a little less potent version, so kids can get used to the taste.

Can kids use adult toothpaste? Can adults use kid toothpaste? Explain it to me!

Yes, yes, yes, we all want to know if toothpastes are truly interchangable.

After all, it’s easy to find yourself in a pinch! If you forget the kid’s toothpaste while traveling, is it a big deal?

What if you forget yours?!

Adults can absolutely use children’s toothpaste. Remember, it’s the same formula, it will probably just taste like bubblegum and have a little less fluoride in it.

Ideally, for every day use, you’ll use a full strength, adult formula. But the kid’s stuff will clean your teeth just fine every once in a while.

In a pinch, kids can use adult toothpaste, too! Although it’s really best to avoid if your grown-up toothpaste uses special ingredients like whiteners or sensitivity treatments.

But kids are fine to use regular fluoride toothpaste. They just may not love the flavor.

Again, for every day use, you can reduce the risk of fluorosis streaks/spots by using a kids formula with less fluoride. But every once in a while, switching toothpaste is just fine.

If your kids are under 6 or so, or if you think there’s a significant risk they may swallow the toothpaste, just be advised that swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause an upset tummy and potentially worse (but don’t worry, only large amounts can be truly dangerous).

That’s why babies use fluoride-free toothpastes to clean their mouths and gums – because they will DEFINITELY swallow a bunch of it.

When you’re shopping for a toothpaste for your kids, just look for these three things:

  • If your kid is old enough to have teeth, the toothpaste should absolutely contain fluoride!
  • Look for the ADA (American Dental Association) Accepted seal of approval
  • For everyday use, ensure that it’s formulated for children, which means less fluoride

Wrapping Up

Let’s finish with: How much toothpaste should you use for kids?

Not as much as you think! Babies and toddlers barely need a small smear on their toothbrush.

Once kids are 3-years-old or so, you can use a slightly larger amount, the size of a pea.

If you take away anything from this article, let it be that fluoride is the key ingredient in toothpaste, it’s completely safe, and it’s the most proven and effective ingredient by a mile when it comes to preventing cavities.

Don’t let these “all-natural” brands fool you. If your child is old enough to avoid swallowing tons of toothpaste, they’re a perfect candidate for a low-fluoride children’s toothpaste.

For more, check out:

Hope this helps!