If you have a kid, then you want to know everything you can about their dental health so they can grow up with healthy teeth, free from dental problems. Pediatric dentists can do a great job of looking after children’s teeth, using numerous treatments and techniques to help keep them strong and healthy.
Often dentists will suggest using fluoride to keep children’s teeth strong and free from cavities. So, what is fluoride and why is it important for teeth?
Fluoride is a mineral and often you will find this mineral in public drinking water and in many foods. It’s important for teeth because it increases the resistance of tooth enamel to acid attacks created by plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. Sometimes professional applications of fluoride can even reverse the very first signs of tooth decay. Cavities can develop in teeth due to a process called demineralization where minerals are lost from the tooth enamel. These minerals are lost when acid attacks the enamel.
Explaining the Process of Demineralization and Remineralization
Every time you eat something sugary or carbohydrate-rich, plaque bacteria in the mouth will thrive on the leftovers on teeth. They use the energy from sugar to multiply and as they do so they create acid as a by-product. After you have eaten something, acidity levels in the mouth increase for approximately half an hour to an hour afterward which is when demineralization occurs. Some of the minerals removed from tooth enamel during this time remain in saliva.
After this time, a process called remineralization takes place and is where minerals such as phosphate, calcium, and fluoride are redeposited into the enamel layer. Using fluoride toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash will help to keep fluoride in your saliva. Eating and drinking foods containing fluoride helps ensure there are fluoride ions in saliva which in turn helps to speed up the process of remineralization.
Fluoride is also useful in helping to disrupt acid production for children’s teeth and for adults.
What Are the Best Sources of Fluoride?
One of the best and easiest sources of fluoride is in tap water as most countries closely monitor the fluoridation of public water supplies. You will also find fluoride in many vegetables and potatoes can be a good source. Canned tomatoes often contain fluoride and the ocean naturally contains sodium fluoride so most seafood has this mineral. A young infant will only get fluoride through drinking infant formulas as breastmilk has virtually no fluoride in it.
All the above forms of fluoride are ingested, but fluoride can also be applied topically to teeth in the form of fluoridated toothpaste and mouth rinses. Dentists can also provide professional applications of fluoride in the form of a gel, foam or varnish. These professional strength fluoride applications contain a much higher level of fluoride than anything you can buy over-the-counter.
Fluoride can also be prescribed in a liquid or tablet form by dentists, or by pediatricians. It is very rare for infants to get too much fluoride before their teeth erupt. The amount of fluoride required by infants and young children is something your pediatric dentist will wish to discuss with you.
What are the Critical Times When a Child Needs Fluoride?
It is vital that infants and children between the age of six months and 16 years are exposed to some fluoride. This is because their primary and adult teeth are developing and emerging during this time. Even as a child enters adulthood, they will still need fluoride and often topical fluoride applications can help strengthen developing teeth.
Are There Any Risks in Using Fluoride?
Just like any mineral, fluoride can be hazardous if too much is ingested but is perfectly safe and effective when used as directed. This is why it’s important to discuss the use of fluoridated products with your pediatric dentist. Parents need to carefully supervise children when using fluoride products. They should keep fluoridated products, particularly mouthwash out of the reach of children.
It’s quite possible your pediatric dentist may suggest using non-fluoridated toothpaste up until age 2. This is until your child develops the ability to spit out excess toothpaste. When using toothpaste, you only need a pea-sized amount on your child’s toothbrush. Although flavored toothpaste may encourage your child to brush their teeth, if they taste nice they may also encourage your child to swallow the toothpaste.
As soon as they are old enough, explain why this isn’t a good idea. When a child has excess fluoride, it can cause slight defects in the tooth enamel which is a condition called fluorosis. It generally develops when children are exposed to fluoride while their teeth are still forming, before the age of six. In its mildest form, it can cause slight flecks or white streaks on tooth enamel, but at its worst, it can cause quite noticeable brown discoloration.
Generally, when fluorosis develops it’s associated with drinking water that hasn’t been treated, such as well water. People using well water should have it thoroughly tested to determine it is safe to drink and to evaluate its mineral content. The tooth stains created by fluorosis cannot be removed during a normal hygiene treatment. It may be possible to lighten them with a professional strength whitening treatment.
What Is the Best Fluoride Treatment for My Child to Have?
Your pediatric dentist may recommend fluoride foam or gel which is applied to teeth using mouth trays. Your kid will simply have to wear the mouth trays in the dental office for a few minutes. They may also suggest using fluoride varnish which is painted onto newly cleaned teeth and left to penetrate the teeth for several hours. Afterwards, it can simply be brushed off.
One of the newest fluoride varnishes to be introduced into pediatric dental offices is silver diamine fluoride. This fluoride treatment has been found to be highly effective in preventing tooth decay and in stopping the progression of any cavities that may already be present. It can be used on primary and permanent teeth and offers a high level of protection.
It works by preventing further demineralization of the tooth enamel while the silver content provides an antimicrobial and protective effect.
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