There has been some confusion about the use of fluoride on young children. The safety, age requirements, and the necessity of fluoride is being questioned, as parents wonder what is best for their kids. In an article sponsored by the American Dental Association, fluoride is considered to be “one of the best and safest ways to prevent cavities.” As dentists, we have seen the damage that can occur when children do not get the right amount of fluoride. In fact, 1 in 4 children have unnecessary cavities because of poor oral hygiene, not sticking to a healthy diet, and the lack of fluoride treatments. The ADA and the APA (American Pediatric Association) are adamant that fluoride treatments are a beneficial addition to your child’s regular dental cleaning.

What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral found in natural water sources like, lakes, rivers and the oceans. When fluoride is applied to teeth it is absorbed into the enamel. Remineralization takes place when the enamel absorbs the fluoride and helping restore lost calcium and phosphorus. Having fluoride active while the remineralization process is taking place is important for strengthening teeth, stopping the decay process, and preventing tooth decay.

There are two ways you can acquire fluoride: topically and systemically. Topical fluorides are applied to the actual tooth enamel making the tooth stronger and more resistant to tooth decay. Fluoride toothpaste, mouthrinses, and fluoride varnish treatments are some examples of topical fluorides. Systemic fluorides are swallowed and provide topical protection too because fluoride is in saliva, which touches teeth. Systemically fluorides examples are fluoridated water and dietary fluoride supplements.

Your child’s dentist will recommend the best fluoride treatment based on their oral health. Recommendations for additional preventative measures like mouthrinses might be recommended if your child is at a high risk for developing cavities.

Fluoride Varnish
Fluoride varnish is a safe in-office dental treatment used to prevent tooth decay in children and adults. The varnish is a protective coating that is brushed on the top and sides of each tooth. The fluoride varnish helps strengthen teeth and protect them from tooth decay. The treatment is quick, pain-free, and you can eat right after it is applied. You do need to wait 4-6 hours before brushing and should avoid any hard foods and hot liquids until the next day. Fluoride varnish is safe and used by doctors and dentist all over the world. The treatment helps prevent tooth decay and if your child is already showing signs of cavities, it can slow down the decay keeping the tooth from getting worse. Depending on your child’s oral health, fluoride treatments can be recommended by their dentist 2-4 times a year. Fluoride varnish treatments, proper brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, and a good diet – can stop tooth decay.

Regular Care is Still Important
While fluoride is extremely important in the prevention of cavities, it will not replace daily care. If your child does not take care of their teeth by eating healthy, staying away from sugary drinks and brushing twice a day, they can still get cavities. It is also recommended that children visit the dentist between 6 and 12 months of age to get an oral health assessment. Regular cleanings should follow every six months so your dentist can keep a check on the health of your child’s teeth. Be sure your child eats a balanced diet with plenty of calcium and Vitamin D, which helps to keep the teeth strong and healthy.

Fluoride Toothpaste for Children
Once those cute little baby teeth come in, start brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Using the correct amount of a fluoride toothpaste is an effective way to control and fight tooth decay in children. We suggest supervising young children while they brush their teeth to assure that the correct amount of toothpaste is being applied and to guarantee proper brushing techniques. Teach your child to spit into the sink by practicing with water. Children under the age of 3 should use a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste – about the size of a grain of rice. No worries if they can’t spit just yet, this amount is too small to cause any harm. Children ages 3-6 (once they can spit) should increase to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Finish by having them rinse with water after each brushing.

Teaching children good healthy habits is one of our most important jobs. It is essential for parents to stay up to date on what is best for their kids. Understanding fluoride and how it helps fight cavities – the number one chronic disease in children – makes it easier to concentrate on the other specific areas of their dental health.