Kid’s toothpastes come in a variety of flavors, yet as adults we sometimes forget how important taste is. We who populate the land of the tall people, tend to think that if it’s good for you (brussels sprouts for example), then it has to possess a slightly off-putting taste. Toothpaste is no exception. We apply a schmear to the brush, stick it in our mouths, and endure the bite of cinnamon, the alkalinity of baking soda, or the sting of spearmint extract and think “Ah, it’s working.” But if you want kids to embrace this most vital of hygienic practices, then great taste has to play a major role.
Recently, my son came home from a trip to the dentist with a travel-size tube of Colgate Stages toothpaste. Like most products for kids, the manufacturers went into overdrive when considering the end consumer. The toothpaste was endorsed by SpongeBob Squarepants, came in a blue gel and, according to the tube, tasted like “Bubblegum Fruit®”. What happened to the days when one would receive a plain looking tube of toothpaste that was as bland on the inside as it was on the outside?
Obviously professionals see the importance of taste and presentation as a draw to an activity deemed a nuisance by children of all ages. And I soon realized that they are mostly right. My son loved the toothpaste, but for reasons other than oral hygiene. Because it looked like candy, and smelled like candy, I was hard pressed convincing him that it actually was not candy. Sure he’d be happy to scrub his pearly whites, but only after he had eaten every bit of gel off of his brush.
Searching for alternatives, I decided to perform a toothpaste taste test over the course of two weeks. We tested conventional, organic and natural options, that were free from the ickyness of character marketing, in the hopes of discovering what tastes my son would tolerate. Below I have outlined our results with commentary from the four-year-old taster:
ADULT TEST 1: Colgate Clean Mint
It was pretty difficult finding a plain tube of Colgate toothpaste, the kind I remember being gifted after every visit to the dentist. The closest I got was a tube of Colgate Clean Mint I found in the ‘travel size’ section of Duane Reade.
Taster: “Ah, too sour… whooo, whooo [blowing through pursed lips]. Too spicy. I don’t like this one… I don’t know why, but it’s too spicy.”
ADULT TEST 2: Tom’s of Maine Spearmint Paste
Tom’s has been around for some time now, and can be found in both conventional and alternative grocery stores. I distinctly remember Tom’s tasting of baking soda. “Made with effective ingredients, our toothpastes are flavored with natural oils for great taste.”
Taster: “I don’t like it. Blech. I don’t like it. It’s a little bit too minty for me. If I had to brush my teeth with that again it would make me sad.”
ADULT TEST 3: Trader Joe’s Antiplaque Toothpaste
This is the toothpaste we have been using for some time now. It’s flavored with Fennel, Propolis and Myrrh. It contains no fluoride, which is why I decided it was safe for my son to use.
Taster: “This one is OK, but I still think I will like the Cars one more.”
KIDS TEST 1: Orab B Stages
“Effective cavity protection in a kid-tested, mild gel formula.” This was the only tube that I eventually tossed. Like the SpongeBob tube, he would eat the Berry Berry Fast paste, then scrub with a toothpaste-free brush afterward. He didn’t protest me trashing it, as he admitted that he didn’t think he was able to not eat it.
Taster: “This one is yummy. It’s like candy… Wait, I need some more on my toothbrush, OK?”
KIDS TEST 2: Tom’s of Maine Silly Strawberry
“You can enjoy the benefits of our Children’s Natural Toothpaste and feel confident knowing that it carries the ADA Seal of Acceptance!”
Taster: “It’s like ice cream. And smells like strawberries. But I don’t like it so much.”
KIDS TEST 3: the Natural Dentist Sparkle Berry Blast
“Our toothpastes are made with natural ingredients – including a patent-pending blend of herbs that are effective at reducing plaque and gingivitis…” Just one look at the pearlescent gleam of this paste made my teeth hurt.
Taster: “Tastes like strawberries. It’s shiny, so I think it makes my teeth shiny. [Smiles in mirror] It’s a little too sweet. Look at my teeth. Shiny!”
After two weeks of trials and tastings, the tester decided that his favorite tube of toothpaste (besides the sample I threw out) was the one we had been using all along, the Trader Joe’s brand. “I like that one as much as the whole Earth. It’s like a pattern,” he said, loosely referring to the order in which we did our test. “Too sweet, sour, just right.” Which in the end says a lot about acquired tastes.