Some of the things that children get into can be a bit unnerving. As spring comes around and children who have been cooped up indoors all year take to the backyard, playgrounds, and parks again, parents may observe some very perplexing and potentially concerning behaviors.
Children, especially toddlers, are very likely to be learning about the world around them for the first time. This often includes putting things in their mouth, including things like dirt and mud. As a parent, your first instinct may be to rush your child to the hospital, but the behavior, if a rare incident, may not be any reason for concern.
Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States (EPA) has actually completed a study due to the prevalence of children eating dirt. The EPA has discovered that about 20% of all normal, healthy, and well-adjusted children will eat approximately one teaspoon of dirt before the age of three. Children often put other objects in their mouths such as toys, sticks, rocks and even dirty hands that may also have some quantity of soil on their surface. This is typically the result of natural curiosity about the world around them and is usually not cause for concern as long as it does not evolve into a pattern of behavior.
Of course, there is some natural and real concern when children eat soil, dirt, mud, sand or dust regularly. The biggest issue is contamination from pesticides, herbicides, and the heavy metals that can be naturally present in any soil. In small amounts, most of these components will not pose a health issue. However, if the child continues to eat soil or other non-food items, especially if you believe the contaminant level to be high, it is important to contact your doctor immediately.
If you have pets such as cats or dogs, there is an increased risk of parasites being present in the soil around your home. Not all parasites of dogs or cats can be passed to humans, but some can. Treating your pets regularly for worms and parasites can reduce this risk to almost zero. It is also critical to keep the yard free of any animal waste.
Although an occasional mouthful of sand or dirt is not usually cause for alarm, always talk to your children’s doctor whenever you are concerned about something they have ingested. In the vast majority of cases, it is just normal exploration of their environment, but you and your doctor can work together to ensure that your child is safe and healthy.