Fluorine, a natural element in the fluoride compound, has proven to be effective in minimizing childhood cavities and tooth decay. Fluoride is a key ingredient in many popular brands of toothpaste, oral gel, and mouthwash, and can also be found in most community water supplies. Though fluoride is an important part of any good oral care routine, overconsumption can result in a condition known as fluorosis. The pediatric dentist is able to monitor fluoride levels, and check that children are receiving the appropriate amount.
How can fluoride prevent tooth decay?
Fluoride fulfills two important dental functions. First, it helps staunch mineral loss from tooth enamel, and second, it promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel.
When carbohydrates (sugars) are consumed, oral bacteria feed on them and produce harmful acids. These acids attack tooth enamel - especially in children who take medications or produce less saliva. Repeated acid attacks result in cavities, tooth decay, and childhood periodontal disease. Fluoride protects tooth enamel from acid attacks and reduces the risk of childhood tooth decay.
Fluoride is especially effective when used as part of a good oral hygiene regimen. Reducing the consumption of sugary foods, brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the pediatric dentist biannually, all supplement the work of fluoride and keep young teeth healthy.
How much fluoride is enough?
Since community water supplies and toothpastes usually contain fluoride, it is essential that children do not ingest too much. For this reason, children under the age of two should use an ADA-approved, non-fluoridated brand of toothpaste. Children between the ages of two and five years old should use a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste, on a clean toothbrush, twice each day. They should be encouraged to spit out any extra fluid after brushing. This part might take time, encouragement, and practice.
The amount of fluoride children ingest between the ages of one and four years old determines whether or not fluorosis occurs later. The most common symptom of fluorosis is white specks on the permanent teeth. Children over the age of eight years old are not considered to be at-risk for fluorosis, but should still use an ADA-approved brand of toothpaste.
Does my child need fluoride supplements?
The pediatric dentist is the best person to decide whether a child needs fluoride supplements. First, the dentist will ask questions in order to determine how much fluoride the child is currently receiving, gain a general health history, and evaluate the sugar content in the child’s diet. If a child is not receiving enough fluoride and is determined to be at high-risk for tooth decay, an at-home fluoride supplement might be recommended.
Topical fluoride can also be applied to the tooth enamel quickly and painlessly during a regular office visit. There are many convenient forms of topical fluoride, including foam, liquids, varnishes, and gels. Depending on the age of the child and their willingness to cooperate, topical fluoride can either be held on the teeth for several minutes in specialized trays or painted on with a brush.
Fluoride needs to be given to infants/children thirty minutes before eating or drinking any products containing calcium such as milk products or cereals. Calcium interferes with the proper absorption of fluoride by binding with the calcium making it useless. You do not want to waste your time giving fluoride to your child if it is not going to work properly. Be sure to check food labels to see if it contains calcium.
Thirty minutes is plenty of time for fluoride to be absorbed on an empty stomach. Give the drop(s) to your child while they are sleeping and make sure you allow 30 minutes before they eat or drink anything. Fluoride helps dramatically during the formation of the permanent teeth to make the enamel stronger and less prone to cavities. This can translate into fewer trips to the dentist for filling cavities.
It is important to follow the instructions on the label and not give more drops then prescribed because your child could develop white marks on the enamel. If you notice white spots developing on your child's tooth enamel notify Dr. Churchill right away. Fluoride drops are not given past age 12 when the primary teeth have been replaced with the permanent teeth.
Teens and adults can use over the counter fluoride rinses. Brush/floss and take fluoride in mouth swish and spit in sink. Do not eat or drink anything else before bed. Do not Swallow the Fluoride!
Sealants product is applied to the top of each tooth to prevent tooth decay from developing. They can prevent a stained area on teeth from developing into a cavity. These can work very effectively with children, teenagers, and adults. There is a fee per tooth. Since this is considered a preventive measure the costs may or may not be covered by your insurance. Our Office Manager will be able to let you know what your coverage is for this service. Sealants are very cost effective and can work best when the patient avoids chewing on hard items like ice, hard candy, or corn nuts etc;. Any hard or crunchy foods can crack or chip the sealant off the chewing surface of a tooth. Dr. Churchill can review the pros and cons of sealants with you so you can make the best choice for your needs. In general sealants are more cost effective than the cost of fillings as long as a patient cares for them properly. If sealants are cared for properly they can last for a long time till a child matures and is better able to care properly for their own teeth.