As a kid in grade school in the late 1950s, I remember a TV spot for Ipana Toothpaste in which an animated character named Bucky Beaver sang, "Brusha, brusha, brusha with the new Ipana."
The ad was directed toward kids to get them to brush their teeth every day. With the cute, friendly Bucky and his large, gleamingly-white beaver front teeth leading the way, it was going to be fun to brush.
Nowadays, the goal remains the same, but the products have changed dramatically. No longer does toothpaste taste simply like toothpaste. Now they come in a myriad of sweet flavors that include bubblegum, watermelon, strawberry and more.
Is this healthy science, or is it more a case of marketing mania magic?
"It's a combination of both, because anything that gets kids to brush is a good and healthful thing," said Joseph R. Greenberg, DMD, founder of Kids Smiles, with offices in Southwest and West Philadelphia, and with an adult practice in Bryn Mawr.
"However, while these toothpastes may contain fluoride, they don't have the artificial sweetener Xylitol, which is expensive to put in but which is taken up by bacteria in the mouth and acts to inhibit tooth decay. Studies published in the American Dental Association Journal, in fact, have shown that children born to expectant mothers, who use either Xylitol gum or mints, have a lower incidence of decay," he explained.
While flavored toothpastes do have intense flavor, they may also have harmful substances, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, a "horrible detergent that can cause an allergic reaction," said Greenberg, who is set to receive the 2006 Pennsylvania Dental Association Special Community Service Award on April 27.
A good alternative to the ultra-flavored toothpastes, he continued, is one called Squiggle/ Enamel Saver – about a dollar more than other brands.
"It doesn't taste as good as bubblegum, but it contains a lot of Xylitol, and is better for kids and also good for adults, especially those who suffer from dry mouth, a major cause of decay in older people," he explained.
The future will bring more new flavors for kids, Greenberg surmised, but the real winner in the kids-and-brushing scenario will be the company that introduces a natural toothpaste that offers both good taste and totally healthful ingredients.
One of the leaders in the field of getting children to brush early in life, by making it tasty and fun, is the manufacturer of Oral-B Stages, a line of pediatric toothbrushes specifically designed for the program's distinct stages: battery-powered brushes, floss and a mild formula of fluoride gel toothpaste, available in what the company calls "kid-tested" fruity bubblegum and mild mint flavors.
Noted Jill Ruiz, global business management of oral care at Oral-B in Boston, headquarters of the Gillette Company, "until Oral-B Stages was launched globally in 2002, there wasn't a line of oral-care products just for kids, especially toothbrushes, which were simply smaller versions of adult toothbrushes.
"Since 2002 – and as the program has gotten established and grown – there has been phenomenally strong acceptance by parents, while dentists have applauded Oral-B Stages also as an idea that was long overdue," said Ruiz, adding that all ingredients used to make the program's products are medically safe for kids.
"The importance of oral care should be taught at an early age," said Nancy Rosen, DMD, of New York City, "so children understand the role brushing and flossing play in their daily routine.
"Many people don't realize that kids need a specific toothbrush to fit their mouth at every stage of growth," she added.
In connection with the youngest sector and brushing, Rochelle Lindemeyer, DMD, director of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Pediatric Dental-Residence Program – run in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania's School of Dentistry – recommended a fluoride rinse, such as ACT, into which kids can dip their toothbrushes and use on their teeth, but only for children at least 2 years old.
Added Lindemeyer: "Parents should supervise brushing very carefully, since young children have limited digital dexterity. Parents should also make sure their kids use just a pea-size amount of toothpaste, and tell them to always spit it out and never swallow it."