Indian Journal of Dental Research

: 2020  |  Volume : 31  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 338--342

Children's perspective on color, smell and flavor of toothpaste

Sahil Choudhari, Deepa Gurunathan, AC Kanthaswamy 
 Department of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, Saveetha Dental College, Saveetha University, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Deepa Gurunathan
Department of Pedodontics, Saveetha Dental College, Saveetha University, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, 162, Poonamalle High Road, Velappanchavadi, Chennai - 600 077, Tamil Nadu


Introduction: The foundation for healthy permanent teeth in children and teenagers is laid during the first years of life. Poor diet, poor habits of food intake, and inadequate toothbrushing habits during the first 2 years of life have been shown in several studies to be related to tooth decay in children. The development of caries in primary teeth further increases the risk of developing caries in permanent teeth. Materials and Methods: A survey was conducted with 787 school children aged between 5 years and 12 years in Chennai city on their perspective of toothpaste color, smell, and flavor. Results: Of 787 children, 222 chose red as the color they want in their toothpaste whereas only 61 children preferred white as their toothpaste color. The survey showed that 50% of the children wanted their toothpaste to taste sweet, followed by minty (20%), sour (14%), and spicy (11%). When asked about what they would like their toothpaste to smell like, majority (41%) of children opted for fruity, followed by sweet (23%), minty (18%), and fragrant (16%). Conclusion: Based on the responses made by 787 children aged between 5 and 12 years, it can be concluded that children prefer red color, fruity smell, and sweet flavor.

How to cite this article:
Choudhari S, Gurunathan D, Kanthaswamy A C. Children's perspective on color, smell and flavor of toothpaste.Indian J Dent Res 2020;31:338-342

How to cite this URL:
Choudhari S, Gurunathan D, Kanthaswamy A C. Children's perspective on color, smell and flavor of toothpaste. Indian J Dent Res [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Sep 22 ];31:338-342
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The health of the mouth and dentition plays a major role in the life of a child, through facilitating nutritional intake, providing a nonverbal means of expressing happiness and sadness, and allowing vocal communication. Therefore, a healthy mouth with a full complement of teeth should be the goal for all children. Healthy mothers and children are the bedrock of healthy and prosperous communities and nations. Effective knowledge and tools exist for reducing suffering and death.[1]

Toothpaste has been used for hundreds of years. It first appeared in a tube in the 1800s and its ability to curb dental disease was lacking. Since then, many formulas were created and there was competition to increase toothpaste use and sales.[2]

As far as children are concerned, the role of the packaging becomes crucial. For the child, it represents a marker that cannot be ignored and the main vector of visual recognition of the product in-store. This is possible due to different signifiers, for example, the brand identity or the color of the packaging. The packaging is considered as a strong element in helping young children make decisions.[3] Products aimed at very young consumers, packaging is aimed at both parents and children, and these packs are normally round in shape with soft textures. The packaging, therefore, plays an effective role as the child finds familiar characteristics in the packaging. As the child grows up, reference to the parents fades away and figurative illustrations are gradually reduced and replaced by the use of symbolic language codes for a given age class.[4]

Children, still limited in their cognitive capacities, will principally use visual attributes when assessing a product. Moreover, it is known that children are sensitive to the colors of packaging. However, there are very few studies on color in marketing and those that do exist mainly look at the influence of the color on the physiology and the psychology of the consumer.[5]

Color is the single most important product-intrinsic sensory cue when it comes to setting people's expectations regarding the likely taste and flavor of food and drink. Food colors can have rather different meanings and hence give rise to differing expectations, in different age groups, not to mention in different cultures. Genetic differences, such as in a person's taster status, can also modulate the psychological impact of food color on flavor perception.[6]

The heightened preference for sweet taste during early development is universal and evident in children around the world. However, individual variations do exist. Genetic variation, as well as early experience, plays a role in establishing such individual differences.

Concerning odors, for instance, some people may like a particular odorant while others show disgust toward the same odorant. Therefore, odors could also be ranged by preferences in a strictly individual manner.[7]

This study aimed to understand the children's perception of toothpaste color, smell, and flavor and how it influences them to maintain oral hygiene.

 Materials and Methods

This study was carried out over a period of 6 months from October 2017 to March 2018 with the approval of the Institutional Review Board of the University (SRB/BDS/17-18/0772). Seven hundred and eighty-seven school children aged between 5 years and 12 years in Chennai city were included in the study. The nature and purpose of the study were explained to the children. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire prepared based on the study. The questionnaire was prepared in simple English language. The questionnaire was essentially comprised of two parts.

The first part contained the general demographic data and the second part included questions related to the study criteria. Participants were provided with options and were requested to mark the option which they perceived as the most appropriate answer.

Collection of the completed questionnaire was done on the same day. The data obtained were tabulated, and statistical analysis was done using SPSS software (version 22.0 IBM, Corp, Armont, NY, USA).


Data were obtained from 787 children. The age of the patients ranged from 5 to 12 years [Table 1], of which 53% were male and 47% were female. Most of the participants (69%) brushed their teeth only once [Table 2]. Choice of toothpaste depended on the brand by most participants [Table 3]. Irrespective of their age, children brushed their teeth mostly by themselves [Table 4] and 46% of them use Colgate toothpaste [Table 5]. The participants are observed to have chosen a particular brand by themselves [Table 6] and mostly not influenced by commercials or friends. Children prefer to have their toothpaste red in color with sweet taste and fruity smell [Table 7], [Table 8], [Table 9], [Table 10], [Table 11].{Table 1}{Table 2}{Table 3}{Table 4}{Table 5}{Table 6}{Table 7}{Table 8}{Table 9}{Table 10}{Table 11}


The purpose of this survey was to study the likes and dislikes of children about the color, smell, and flavor of toothpastes which will eventually influence their preferences and thus enhance better maintenance of oral hygiene. At this age, children should be highly motivated to adopt good oral hygiene practice. If one wants to have a healthy life, he/she should start early with healthy habits. Research and clinical practice show that health habits develop very early in life and once well established are exceedingly difficult to change. That is why it is critically important to not neglect such practices at a young age. Once problems and poor health habits emerge, they tend to be very long lasting.[5],[7] Thus, taking health habits seriously at a young age will make a difference in the long term for health, well-being, and longevity.

For data collection, we used a survey which provides a high level of general capability in representing a large population at low costs. Data gathering was convenient and both printed questionnaires and online survey techniques were used. Another advantage of conducting a survey is that they provide all the participants with a standardized stimulus. With such high reliability obtained, the researcher's own biases are eliminated.[4],[8]

No other study has been previously done to evaluate children's preferences in toothpaste color, smell, and flavor and hence we attempted to do so, with the aim of understanding their choice so that they can be motivated to enhance brushing habits with the toothpaste of their favorite color, smell, or flavor.

According to our survey, 31% of the study population brushed only once daily while 69% brushed twice daily. Perhaps surprisingly, relatively few parents meet professional's recommendations to brush their children's teeth twice a day. According to a recent survey conducted by the Delta Dental in the United States in September 2014, nearly 7 of 10 people brushed their teeth at least twice a day. However, that means more than 30% had not brushed enough. Unfortunately, 23% of the study population had gone 2 or more days without brushing their teeth in the past year.[9] Lack of knowledge and awareness of the importance of brushing teeth twice daily in the adult population may also hinder them from instilling the habit in their children. A survey by the Delta Dental Colorado in June 2012 showed that while nearly 2 (37%) in 5 Coloradans reported that their child's overall oral health is excellent, nearly 2 (38%) in 5 of the survey respondents admitted that their child brushed his or her teeth less than twice a day. And, 3 (60%) in 5 of the survey respondents said that their child brushed his or her teeth for at least 2 min, which is the amount of time dentists typically recommend spending on each brushing. A recent international study involving parents of over 2800 children (5 years old on average) documented wide variation in the frequency of parent–child toothbrushing, both between countries and between racial/ethnic groups. Within the US groups, twice-daily toothbrushing ranged from a high of 64% for African American children to a low of 50% for Caucasian children.[10] Overall, the brushing behavior most strongly associated with being caries free at 4 years old was onset of toothbrushing before 2 years old. This study made an important discovery: the single best predictor of children being caries free was not a behavior at all, but a parent's belief that they could carry out regular toothbrushing.[11] Many other studies also gave similar results. However, in India, almost all surveys conducted to assess the frequency of brushing showed that majority of the study population brushed only once a day.[12] As the parent has been identified to be the key predictor in children's oral health habits, our survey determined the parental assistance in child's toothbrushing. In the 5–8-year-old age group, 42% of the children had their parents to brush their teeth daily while 38% of the children brushed their teeth under parental supervision. However, 20% of the children brushed their teeth without any parental supervision which would not be advisable. In the 8–10-year-old age group, majority (78%) of the children brushed their teeth without parental supervision while 18% children brushed their teeth with parental supervision. A very small fraction (4%) of children had their teeth brushed by their parents. Huebner et al. in their study showed that when describing a typical toothbrushing session, 28% of parents who were brushing said that they brushed their child's teeth for them or went over the teeth to ensure thorough cleaning.[13] The most common pattern, described by 55%, was to be physically present and supervise the child's toothbrushing behavior or brush their own teeth at the same time. Nearly 18% of parents reported that their child brushed on his or her own, without supervision. The study also explained this in terms of a parent's logistic difficulties: “It is all her. With 2 kids and even more adults in this house, it is kind of difficult to be the one standing next to her when she is brushing.” Another shared with pride, “She brushes her own teeth, and she is been doing that since she was two-and-a-half years old.” From this, it is clear that many parents do not recognize toothbrushing as a self-help skill that, like feeding or dressing, develops over time.[13] Similar to those other skills, as the child matures, parent's support must change from brushing their children's teeth to assisting with brushing and brushing in tandem with their children before the child can do this independently. Parents should rebrush thoroughly after the child has brushed first. From the age of 6 years, children have the ability to brush their teeth alone twice daily. However, parents must supervise the toothbrushing (until the age of 12 years) and check on the condition of the toothbrush. A worn toothbrush is also less effective at cleaning teeth.[14]

When asked about the quantity of toothpaste used, 24% of the study population used a “pea-sized” quantity, 45% reported that it covers half the bristles of the toothbrush, and 31% covered the entire bristles of the toothbrush. Parents and children should be educated about the risk of developing dental fluorosis when using excess quantities of fluoride toothpaste. Many children tend to swallow toothpaste while brushing and thus very small quantities should be used to prevent the risk of developing fluorosis.[15],[16] A research by Blinkhorn et al. supports the point that effective toothbrushing requires something more than simply knowing it is important and also the technique of brushing. Their study, of 268 mothers, included questions about oral hygiene and direct observation of mothers brushing their preschool children's teeth. They reported that most mothers (71%) knew they should brush twice daily, but only half knew they should use a small amount of toothpaste and less than half (40%) showed adequate toothbrushing skills. A study of 1021 inner-city African-American mothers of 1–5-year-olds had similar findings.[17],[10]

In today's world, advertising is considered as an important weapon in creating a demand for a product's purchase. Thus, we questioned our study population who recommended their toothpaste, a majority of the study population had chosen television commercials (21%), followed by the friend's recommendation (19%). When questioned regarding the various brands of toothpaste, Colgate comes first in this list as the most-used toothpaste (46%) followed by Close-Up (16%) and Sensodyne (11%). The preference of children regarding factors used in various advertisements of different brands of toothpaste was assessed. The impact of a celebrity as a brand ambassador used in an advertisement has good impact on consumer's mind. Nearly 29% of the people are influenced by the attractive packing and 34% are influenced by the reliable brand name. Thus, the consumers of today are driven toward products with a visual appeal and discounts rather than the actual quality or ingredients of the product. In case of children, leveraging popular cartoon or movie characters is also a useful marketing technique.[18]

As far as children are concerned, the role of the packaging becomes crucial. For the child, it represents a marker that cannot be ignored and the main vector of visual recognition of the product in-store. When the children were questioned what color would they like their toothpaste to be, majority (29%) of them chose red. While there were more number (66%) of girls choosing pink, the color was rarely chosen by the boys (6%). The white color was least preferred (8%) whereas most of the toothpastes available are white in color. Previous surveys conducted to assess children's favorite color have shown blue to be their favorite color; however, our study shows that only 21% of the population opted for blue. Children still limited in their cognitive capacities will principally use visual attributes when assessing a product (Roedder-John and Sujan, 1990).[19],[20] Moreover, it is known that children are sensitive to the colors of the product used (McNeal, 1964). However, there are very few studies (Divard and Urien, 2001) on the influence of the color on the physiology and the psychology of the consumer. Many studies look at this in an advertising context in these studies; the main color of the advert or the background color (Roullet et al., 2003) is at the center of the investigation. We have thus applied this concept to make children more accepting to adopt good toothbrushing practices. Color is generally defined according to three dimensions (Divard and Urien, 2001; Roullet et al., 2003): shade (or tone), light (clarity), and the saturation (chromatic purity). This 3-dimensional nature of color leads to inevitable confusions when we study these criteria in influencing children.[21],[22],[23],[24] Hutchings (2003) points out that light colors are used to influence children's choices.[25] However, our study was contrary to this where the children chose a bright and vibrant color like red. Applying the logic that based on the importance of children's favorite color in their decision-making process demonstrated in many studies, we can modify toothpaste colors according to the children's liking. In general, with particular regard to flavor, colors bring about flavor sensations (red: strong flavor, green: spicy and sour, pink: sweet and sugary, yellow: spicy and acidic, and orange: peppery and spicy). Thus, colors such as yellow and orange should not be used. The survey showed that 50% of the children wanted their toothpaste to taste sweet, followed by minty (20%), sour (14%), and spicy (11%).[7],[21]

Incorporating flavors into toothpastes can be done. Toothpastes can be made in different flavors, such as fruity flavors, for example, strawberry, mango, and green apple. When asked about what they would like their toothpaste to smell like, majority (41%) opted for fruity, followed by sweet (23%), minty (18%), and fragrant (16%). No child would like to use a toothpaste with a bitter taste or a medicated smell.[22],[23] Using tricks like these to alter the toothpaste may enhance an increased frequency of brushing in children.


Based on the responses made by 787 children aged between 5 and 12 years, it can be concluded that children prefer red color, fruity smell and sweet flavor. If toothpastes are designed with these characteristics, it may help in motivating children to brush twice daily and maintain good oral hygiene.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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