Fluoride is an essential part of children’s dental health, helping to make your kids’ teeth stronger, which prevents decay. Nothing makes a parent prouder than hearing their child come from the dentist’s office flashing their pearly whites declaring, “No cavities!”
To find out more about fluoride, we asked dentist Rouble Rana at Shanghai United Family Hospital to give us the lowdown on fluoride and its effect on developing teeth.
Besides being added to toothpaste, in some countries fluoride is added to water. In fact, fluoridation of water has been known to reduce cavities by 50 percent and the US Center for Disease Control calls it “one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
But in China, when most kids are drinking bottled water, fluoride must come from other sources.
Fluoride is available in two forms for dental use: topical and systemic. Topical fluorides such as fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash, gels and varnish are applied to teeth to make them decay-resistant.
Systemic fluorides are those that are ingested (fluoride added to water, milk and salt) into the body and then absorbed by developing teeth to make them decay resistant.
Fluoride prevents cavities in many ways:
Strengthens the enamel: Fluoride attaches to the calcium in a developing tooth to strengthen the enamel and make it resistant to decay, while in erupted teeth it hardens the enamel.
Demineralization and remineralization of teeth: Fluoride inhibits the loss of minerals from teeth and also encourages deposition of calcium and phosphorus to keep the tooth hard, known as remineralization.
Effects on bacteria: Fluoride affects the life cycle of bacteria that causes cavities.
Studies conducted over the last 25 years have found fluoride to be safe and effective in preventing cavities. However, if a child younger than five consumes too much fluoride, it may lead to fluorosis. Fluorosis is more of a cosmetic problem than an actual dental disease. It usually is mild and causes tiny white specks or streaks on teeth, which are often unnoticeable. In severe cases it leads to pitting and brown stains on teeth.
Products containing fluoride should be kept out of reach of children. Parents should dispense the toothpaste to avoid excess use.
Use only a smear of fluoride toothpaste in children younger than four and a small pea-size amount for children four to six years of age. Encourage children to spit out the paste after brushing.
The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry and the European Association of Pediatric Dentistry recommend the use of fluoride toothpaste for basic cavity prevention. Brushing twice a day – after breakfast in the morning and before bed at night – with fluoride toothpaste is recommended for everyone.
There are many factors to be considered before recommending fluoride tablets, lozenges or drops. A child’s age, dental cavity history, dietary habits, water fluoridation and dietary fluoride should be considered before a supplement is prescribed. Your dentist can help you recommend the right amount and source of fluoride after a thorough evaluation of these factors.
Care is taken to ensure the balance is maintained between maximizing the protective effect against the dental caries and minimizing the effects of dental fluorosis.
Regular dental checks are recommended for all – a first check when the first tooth erupts or before a child’s first birthday – twice a year. During these visits your dentist may apply topical fluoride on your child’s teeth. These come in different forms including gels or foams applied on teeth in a tray or varnish that is brushed or painted on teeth.
// Rouble Rana, BDS MDS, is a pediatric dentist consultant at Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics