Can I Use Fluoride Toothpaste on My Baby’s Teeth?

Asian baby holding a toothbrush with two hands

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

You’ve made it through some of the first-year milestones with your baby like smiling, rolling over, and sitting up on their own. One of the biggest physical milestones that starts within the first year is teething. While it can be anxiety-inducing to see your baby in pain while teething, it’s important to monitor their physical development. 

Once your baby’s teeth start coming in, it’s time to start brushing. After picking out a toothbrush, next comes toothpaste. You’ll see there are non-fluoride and fluoride options, and a ton of different options to choose from. You’ll need to know what fluoride is, whether or not it’s safe for your baby, and what the benefits of using fluoride toothpaste are, so read on.

What Is Fluoride? 

Fluoride is a naturally occurring cavity fighter that is found in water. It’s added to toothpaste to help prevent cavities and works by strengthening the tooth’s enamel to be more resistant to the bacteria that causes cavities. Fluoride, when combined with regular brushing to rid your mouth of bacteria, helps keep cavities away.

Is Toothpaste With Fluoride Safe For My Baby?

Fluoride toothpaste is safe to use as soon as your baby has a tooth erupt, or they turn 1 year old— whichever comes first. It's around this time you can also start taking your little one to the dentist. Experts recommend that infants see the dentist within the first six months of their first tooth erupting (or by their first birthday).

Mary Millkey, DDS, a board-certified pedodontist based in Atlanta, GA, agrees. “It may seem silly [to send infants to the dentist] at first to some parents, but the point is to establish regular care so that your baby outgrows being scared of the dentist when they’re very small and easy to manage,” she says. 

Jonelle Anamelechi, DDS, MSPH, adds that fluoride use is two-fold: “Fluoride is used to protect the teeth that they have and to protect the teeth that are growing.” She recommends testing your water to see how much fluoride is in it to see if you need to give your baby toothpaste with fluoride. More mountainous areas might have more fluoride, and well water users might have less. You can use an at-home testing kit to find out. 

Every baby is different. Be sure to consult with a pediatrician if you have any questions about brushing your baby's teeth with fluoride toothpaste.

Benefits of Giving Baby Toothpaste with Fluoride 

There are several benefits to giving your baby toothpaste with fluoride.

Children Are More Cavity Prone

Dr. Millkey notes that the enamel on children’s teeth is not as hard as the enamel on an adult's teeth, meaning they’re more prone to cavities. Fluoride will help get rid of harmful bacteria in addition to other methods, such as brushing teeth on a regular basis and flossing when children are old enough to do so, usually around age 2 or 3 (when their teeth begin to touch).

Prevents Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Children should not be put to bed with any food or drink, including milk, to help prevent baby bottle tooth decay. The natural acid in the foods we eat lingers on the teeth, so brushing will help prevent this. Something similar can happen with nursing babies, called nursing caries. 

Sets Up Good Dental Habits 

Regular dental care, including brushing with fluoride toothpaste and regular dental appointments at a young age, can result in babies who are less cavity prone. Dr. Millkey attributes it to education, “The dentist will educate the parent on oral healthcare and dietary choices so that families and the dentist together can focus on preventing cavities rather than fixing things after they go wrong.” Good dental care also involves drinking water with fluoride and flossing when your child is old enough to do so, with assistance.

Safety Precautions 

While fluoride toothpaste is generally an OK choice for babies, there are still a few safety precautions to keep in mind. Consider these things when using fluoride toothpaste.

Use a Small Amount

You only need a very small smear of toothpaste on the toothbrush. Because your child can’t understand that they need to spit out the toothpaste until about 3 or 4, Dr. Millkey recommends wiping it off their teeth with a washcloth. 

Dr. Anamelechi agrees that a tiny amount will suffice, and it's hard for your child to get too much. "Too much fluoride” would mean covering the toothbrush entirely with fluoride toothpaste and swallowing it every time they brush, she says.

Excessive Use Can Cause Issues

Dr. Anamelechi cautions that there are a few risks associated with fluoride toothpaste usage. If used in excess, fluoride can cause things like stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and fluorosis.

“Fluorosis is white spotting and pitting on the teeth,” Dr. Anamelechi says, which is usually mild and not permanent. Extreme fluorosis, while rare, can result in heavily pitted teeth or permanently damaged enamel. If you think your child has consumed too much fluoride—for example, they've eaten a tube of toothpaste—call your pediatrician and Poison Control.

Xylitol as a Fluoride Alternative

You might have heard of xylitol as an alternative to fluoride. It is a naturally occurring alcohol found in most plant materials, including fruits and vegetables. "It works in a different mechanism than fluoride and can be used as an alternative, but doesn’t have the tooth decay reduction data behind it as fluoride does,” says Dr. Anamelechi.

Dr. Anamelechi notes that xylitol has become more prevalent because of the mixed messaging around fluoride and its safety. She stresses that when used in moderate dosing, fluoride is safe, but some families look for alternatives.

"Although it doesn't have numbers of years of research and data of its effectiveness, Xylitol does help as an anti-cavity option," she says. "For higher-cavity risk children—for example, those with special challenges, a high sugar or high acid diet, tooth defects, or previous cavity history—fluoride is still the number one recommendation."

When and How to Introduce Fluoride Toothpaste to Your Baby 

Dr. Millkey recommends brushing your baby’s teeth every morning and night with fluoride toothpaste starting once they get their first tooth. “Think about it this way,” she says. “You don’t get a grace period. As soon as your baby gets teeth, they can get cavities. I see 1 and 2-year-olds all the time with cavities, and it’s not fun to try and fix them.”

Once they can spit, you can graduate from a grain of rice amount of toothpaste to a pea-sized amount. 

Choosing A Toothpaste

You’re ready to use fluoride toothpaste, but you might still be scratching your head as to which to use, as many in the children’s aisle are marketed as non-fluoride. Dr. Anamelechi says it’s OK to use adult toothpaste since you’re using such a small amount. Just make sure it doesn’t have additives like charcoal or tooth-whitening chemicals. 

Dr. Anamelechi recommends Tom’s of Maine, Crest, and Hello toothpaste, all of which come in non-mint flavors. “The kinds of toothpaste that advertise as ‘trainers’ or ‘safe to swallow’ are not necessary unless you have a toddler like my own who must-have toothpaste on their brush for their unassisted brush time,” she says. 

A Word From Verywell

Taking care of your baby’s teeth is an important part of caring for them. Establishing good dental habits early on, such as regularly seeing a pediatric dentist, daily brushing, and using fluoride toothpaste, can pay off in the form of healthy teeth and gums in the long run. If you have questions or concerns about toothpaste or fluoride, in particular, reach out to your pediatrician or a local pediatric dentist for more guidance.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Dental Association, Fluoride, Topical and Systemic Supplements.

  2. Stanford Childrens' Health. A Child's First Dental Visit Fact Sheet.

  3. University of Illinois Chicago. What Every Parent Needs to Know About Baby Teeth.

  4. Stanford Children's Health. Flossing and Children.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics' How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Baby.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics' Dental Health and Hygiene for Young Children.

  7. Nemours KidsHealth. Flouride.

  8. California Dental Association. Xylitol.

By Lauren Finney
Lauren is an experienced print and digital content creator with an extensive list of clients whom she has served through editorial consulting, content creation, branding, copywriting, native content, branded content, and more.