Fluoride is important for maintaining a healthy mouth, especially in growing children. While fluoride plays an important role in dental health for kids, fluoride is often misunderstood. Learning about what fluoride does for children’s teeth can help you ensure that your child gets the right amount of fluoride to keep his or her teeth healthy for a lifetime.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in soil, water, and food. In fact, about 99 percent of the body’s fluoride is stored in teeth and bones. Synthetic fluoride is present in drinking water, toothpaste, mouthwashes, and a number of different chemical products.
Fluoride plays an important role in dental health by supporting tooth enamel health. This mineral can remineralize weak enamel, reverse early tooth decay damage, and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause cavities and other dental issues.
Fluoride and Cavity Prevention
Also known as dental caries, cavities are a serious problem, especially for children. About 23 percent of children ages 2 to 5 will get a cavity on their baby teeth, and about 13 percent of young children ages 6 to 19 have untreated dental caries in their permanent teeth. Dental caries are holes in the teeth caused by decay that grow larger and deeper over time. Cavities develop when the hard outer enamel layer of the tooth dissolves. In children, this is often the result of too much sugar in their diets, not brushing away plaque properly, and a lack of fluoride.
The number of cavities dentists diagnose and treat in their patient’s permanent teeth has been declining steadily in the United States since the 1960s. This is largely due to fluoridation of water, the use of dental sealants, and improved dental hygiene products. However, the rates of cavities in young children from preschool to pre-adolescence have increased since 1998.
Why is Fluoride Necessary for Children?
Fluoride is well-known for its positive impact on tooth enamel health, which is why it is important for children’s developing teeth. Fluoride has two types of benefits for children’s teeth; systemic and topical.
Systemic Fluoride Benefits – When children are young and their teeth have yet to erupt, the fluoride present in food, water, beverages, and dietary supplements strengthen tooth enamel. This makes their enamel more resistant to decay when the teeth do erupt.
Topical Fluoride Benefits – After children’s teeth erupt, fluoride from toothpaste, mouthwash, and fluoride varnish from dental offices help prevent tooth decay by making tooth enamel stronger through a process known as remineralization. This process helps rebuild weakened tooth enamel and reverses signs of early tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association. Topical fluoride exposure positively impacts both baby teeth and permanent, adult teeth.
How To Make Sure Children Get Enough Fluoride
There are a number of ways to ensure that children get enough fluoride through both systemic and topical methods.
- Fluoride Varnish – Your child’s dentist can apply a fluoride varnish that will coat their teeth in the enamel-protecting mineral. You will have to ensure your child doesn’t eat or drink for 30 minutes to an hour after the varnish has been applied.
- Oral Hygiene Products – Most toothpaste and mouthwashes contain small amounts of fluoride. These products will typically name the fluoride as either sodium fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate.
- Healthy Diet – Seafood like shrimp and crab, as well as raisins, have a naturally high fluoride composition.
- Fluoridated water – Water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by an estimated 20 to 40 percent. Municipalities add fluoride to their water supplies because decades of research shows that drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities by about 25 percent in children and adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How Much Fluoride Does My Child Need?
The amount of fluoride a child needs depends largely on his or her age, along with the level of fluoride in the child’s drinking water. Municipalities are currently working towards adjusting their fluoride levels to 0.7 parts fluoride per million parts water. A good rule of thumb when it comes to making sure your child is getting enough fluoride for their dental health is to make sure they are drinking fluoridated water, brushing their teeth with toothpaste containing small amounts of fluoride once they are old enough not to swallow the toothpaste during brushing.
Dentists typically recommend that parents begin to care for their child’s teeth as soon as they begin to erupt. Your child should visit their pediatric dentist as early as two years old to monitor and clean their erupting teeth. Your dentist can prescribe fluoride supplements, varnishes, and other treatments to help your child get the fluoride he or she needs for strong, healthy teeth.
Swallowing Fluoride and Fluorosis: Is Fluoride Bad?
If you are like most health-conscious people and parents, you always want to be aware of the risks that could impact you or your child’s health. It is important as a parent to make sure that the children’s toothpaste you purchase specifically states it has fluoride in it. Many children’s toothpaste does not contain fluoride because young children are at risk of swallowing the toothpaste, which could result in nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. For this reason, children should always be supervised when using toothpaste with fluoride.
While important for your child’s teeth, fluoride can sometimes get a bad reputation due to fluorosis. Fluorosis is a condition that occurs in children as the result of excessive exposure to high levels of fluoride over a long period of time. Fluorosis in children results in a mild cosmetic problem that causes white streaks or discoloration of the teeth but does not affect the functionality of teeth.
Fluoride levels in water in the U.S. are typically less than 2 milligrams per liter, according to the CDC, which is low enough to avoid even mild fluorosis in most cases. In other parts of the world with very high levels of fluoride in the water, moderate to severe fluorosis is more common. In its most severe, but rare form, fluorosis can cause pits to form in the teeth.
Your dentist and dental hygienists are the best source of information for how to ensure your child gets enough fluoride. Your pediatric dentist will be able to look at your child’s teeth, go over their current dental hygiene routine, and recommended further steps to keep their smiles healthy and cavity-free. The more you know about fluoride, the more you can to do ensure your child has a bright, healthy smile for a lifetime.
Williams & Daily Dental is a family and cosmetic dentist located in North Raleigh, NC with a team of dedicated dentists enthusiastic in their commitment to their patients. We offer dental implants, Invisalign teeth straightening, in-office and home teeth whitening options, and Oral-B electric toothbrushes. Contact Williams & Daily at (919) 846-9070 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.