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Introducing Your Children to Fluoride
By Dr. Jack Sahlaney, D.M.D., M.D.S.
The prevalence of dental cavities has declined among children in economically developed countries over the years. Although this decline can be attributed to many interrelated factors, the three most important to dentists and parents are a well balanced diet, proper oral hygiene, and fluorides. As a dental care provider, it is my obligation to inform you about proper oral hygiene along with the benefits and risks involved with fluoride.
Fluoride is widely distributed in nature and is the thirteenth most common element in the earth’s crust. Fluoride is available to the teeth in two primary ways: systemically, through sources such as the drinking of fluoridated water, and topically, directly applied to the surfaces of the teeth through the use of toothpastes and rinses. Fluoride is available in a variety of ways, such as community drinking water, prescribed dietary supplements, and over-the-counter toothpastes and rinses. Fluoridated water primarily benefits developing teeth. Therefore, in communities with fluoridated water, your child has an advantage against cavities.
Caution should always be taken when children are first learning to brush their teeth because fluoride can be toxic if ingested in large amounts. However, the benefits of fluoride outweigh the risks. Fluoride obtained through the drinking of fluoridated water bonds to the teeth, improving the structure of the teeth and decreasing the effects of acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. The topical effects from toothpastes and rinses help strengthen the outer surface of the teeth and decrease bacterial plaque organisms. It is important to note that fluoride provides the greatest protection to the smooth surfaces or fronts of the teeth. Its benefits are not as effective between the teeth and on the biting surfaces of the back teeth. Fluoride helps prevent cavities, but you still need to floss and brush after meals and at bedtime.
Guidelines issued in 1994 recommend that fluoride exposure be kept at the lowest level possible for controlling cavities. The following guidelines were proposed for children less than 6 years of age:
- The child should brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Brushing should be supervised by an adult.
- A pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be dispensed, preferably by the supervising adult. The strip of toothpaste should not exceed half the length of the head of a child’s toothbrush.
- Swallowing should be discouraged. The child should be trained and monitored in proper rinsing and spitting. After brushing, the child should spit, rinse with water, and spit out the rinse.
Fluoride has been shown to decrease the occurrence of cavities, making it an integral part of daily oral hygiene. However, it is recommended that the use of fluoridated toothpaste in children under the age of 6 be closely monitored. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the use of fluoridated toothpastes and/or rinses, please consult your family dentist and/or hygienist.