Last year, as more and more teeth were erupting in the mouth of my toddler, I began to worry about the quality of her toothbrushing. True to type, she did not love the oral-care chore. I’d tried various brushes, pastes, and approaches, which included showing her the sleepover scene in Grease in which a pig-tailed Jan sings along with Bucky Beaver to a 1950s toothpaste commercial (“Brusha, brusha, brusha!”).
On those evenings when my daughter would even open her mouth, she seemed to be ingesting most of the toothpaste — and you’re not supposed to. After Googling something like “edible child toothpaste fluoride free,” I ended up buying a dentifrice advertised as chocolate flavored and safe to swallow. The tube itself resembles the nozzles used to pipe icing on cake. And the kid dug it all: Just like that, she was willing to brush (or let me brush). She also tolerates brushing for much longer, ensuring that all teeth as well as her gums are ministered to. Really, we’ve been brusha-brusha-brusha-ing without issue ever since.
Recently, however, my husband left for a work trip, and he took our tube of grown-up paste with him. I cursed him in the morning, then borrowed the kiddo’s chocolate stuff. Small wonder she likes it: It’s delicious. And that is when I looked more closely at Theodent Kids Toothpaste.
As its active ingredient, Theodent drops fluoride in favor of a plant alkaloid found in the cocoa bean called theobromine. Theobromine is what makes chocolate taste bitter. It’s partly the reason that rich chocolate gives us a buzz and entirely the reason that chocolate poisons dogs. In the 1990s, Tetsuo Nakamoto, a nutritional physiologist and dentist, was working alongside some analytical geologists when they serendipitously discovered that theobromine is very good at remineralizing the enamel of our teeth — in effect hardening it and preventing cavities.
“This is a very interesting phenomenon, I said,” Nakamoto told me on a phone call. Further peer-reviewed research suggested — and still suggests — that theobromine can do at least as good of a job as fluoride without any risk of the side effects that potentially attend fluoride use, said Nakamoto. When he and co-founders launched Theodent, they named the company after the Latin name for the cocoa tree: Theobroma cacao.
In fact, Lizzo uses Theodent 300, a pro-grade offering with a clinical amount of theobromine — and a $100 price tag. Alas, the adult pastes do not taste like a candy bar. They’re minty but not mint-chocolate-chip-y. A sugar-free chocolate extract is added only to the version for children.
I am sure that is a big reason my daughter loves Theodent, but I also suspect she senses that I am much more relaxed about the state of her teeth. Who can be sure? Maybe she already knows what they say about looking a gift horse in the mouth.
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