(HealthDay)—Children should begin using toothpaste with fluoride as soon as they get their first tooth, according to updated American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines.
To help prevent cavities, parents should use a smear (an amount about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste for children younger than 3 years old and a pea-sized dab for those aged 3 to 6, the association recommends.
Previous guidelines recommended using water to brush the teeth of children younger than age 2 and brushing the teeth of children aged 2 to 6 with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
"For half a century, the ADA has recommended that patients use fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities, and a review of scientific research shows that this holds true for all ages," Dr. Edmond Truelove, chairman of the ADA's Council on Scientific Affairs, said in an association news release.
"Approximately 25 percent of children have or had cavities before entering kindergarten, so it's important to provide guidance to caregivers on the appropriate use of fluoride toothpaste to help prevent their children from developing cavities," Truelove said.
The ADA said the updated guidelines are meant to help prevent cavities in children while limiting their risk of fluorosis, which is a mild discoloration of the teeth.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States, and more than 16 million American children have untreated cavities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new recommendations appear in the February issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about children's oral health.