What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent tooth decay in both children and adults. The World Health Organization reported that “there is clear evidence that long-term exposure to an optimal level of fluoride results in diminishing levels of caries (cavities) in both child and adult populations.”
Please see the specific questions below to learn how the right amount of fluoride can help your children. And please read “Fluoride for Adults” so you also know how to protect your teeth.
How Will My Children Benefit From Using Fluoride?
By being sure your children have enough fluoride both in their water and through fluoride treatments from their dental team, you are:
- Giving them a lifetime of stronger and more decay resistant teeth.
- Helping them avoid the discomfort of dental decay
- Starting them on a path that will allow them to keep their teeth their entire lives
(Please see below for information on fluoride in our water supply and a complete description on how fluoride works.)
When is it Most Crucial to Have Fluoride Available for Your Child’s Teeth?
Between the ages of six months and sixteen years, your children’s teeth are developing, but they’re not as hard and strong as they could be with fluoride treatments. During this time parents need to be very vigilant about providing the right amount of fluoride.
Your child can get fluoride from over-the-counter and prescription toothpaste, mouth rinses and professional fluoride treatments.
What Does Fluoride Do For Baby and Primary Teeth?
Topical fluoride makes new baby and primary teeth stronger and more resistant to decay. Treated water, along with over the counter toothpaste, gels, and mouth rinses can help, but your children will have less tooth decay (fewer cavities) if they get a professional application of fluoride twice a year at their dental checkups.
If you or your child hasn’t had the full benefit of professionally applied fluoride treatments, please let us know. We will let you know about the options you have for home and/or professional fluoride options.
Systemic fluoride (fluoride delivered by tablets or drops) strengthens the new teeth that have come out of the gum as well as those developing under the gums. If new teeth absorb fluoride when they’re developing below the gum, the tooth enamel becomes harder and less porous, making them more resistant to dental disease. Fewer cavities mean more comfort.
The team at Tewksbury Dental Associates can tell you whether your town has fluoridated water. If so, that’s usually enough systemic fluoride. If not, we will usually recommend that you discuss supplements with your child’s pediatrician. Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for treating infants, and tablets are used for children through the teenage years.
Please be sure to ask for our help monitoring the amount of fluoride your child takes because too much taken while teeth are developing can cause white spots on the teeth (a condition called fluorosis).
How to Help Your Sweet-Tooth Kid
Kids like sweets. Who doesn’t! Unfortunately, each time your child—or you—eat a sweet (or carbohydrate) sugar acids are formed that literally eat away at tooth enamel. Professional fluoride treatments make the enamel harder, which makes the teeth less prone to developing cavities.
There are other ways to also help your child’s teeth:
- Minimize the number of times per day your child has sugar or carbohydrates in his/her mouth. It’s not actually the amount of carbs that causes decay; it’s the length of time teeth are exposed to the acid from sugar or other carbs. If your child eats a lot of candy, dessert or other carbs at lunch or dinner, that’s one exposure. If he or she sips sports or other sugary drinks throughout the day, snacks on chips, candy, or even fruit all day long, that’s continuous exposure and much more damaging for teeth. This “sugar” when combined with plaque can release acid for 20 minutes per exposure.
- Increase the number of times your child is exposed to fluoride – toothpaste, rinses, fluoridated drinking water and concentrated dental treatments.
Be careful because you can give too much! We help be sure they get the correct amount.
What is Fluoride Treatment?
Fluoride is a mineral that has been used for many years to prevent tooth decay. If you were lucky enough to be born and live in an area with the perfect amount of fluoride naturally occurring in the water, you would have few, if any, cavities or fillings.
Unfortunately, New England isn’t one of those areas so fluoride is added to drinking water in many towns, which helps—but is not enough. Over the counter toothpaste, gels, and mouth rinses can reduce or prevent decay. However, the fluoride our dentists and hygienists use is much more concentrated and this higher concentration fluoride fights tooth decay more powerfully. It’s more effective in protecting your teeth—and we encourage you to get the most effective treatment available.
Scientifically, here’s the story. Every day minerals are lost from teeth (demineralization) when acids formed by plaque bacteria and sugars attack the tooth’s outer, enamel layer. But minerals including fluoride are also redeposited (remineralization) from certain foods and water. When there’s too much loss, without enough redeposit, the tooth gets a cavity.
What is the Best Way to Apply Fluoride?
The very best results come from using a fluoride “varnish” because it does the best job of coating the teeth and lasts the longest. In the past gels and foams were the best we had. Because our team is constantly studying and stays on top of what science shows to be the most effective treatments for you, we have upgraded the application technique we use.
What’s The Right Amount of Fluoride?
The right dose varies with the amount of fluoride in the water in any particular town. Talk to us and we’ll help you decide if home or office fluoride is right for your family.
- The right amount of toothpaste is the size of a pea. Stick to that amount.
- Store any prescription fluoride supplements high and away from the reach of children.
If We Drink Bottled Water, Will My Child get Enough Fluoride?
Generally you can assume that there is no fluoride in bottled water and if your child drinks only bottled water then you should talk to us about supplementing with dietary fluoride tablets.
What about Home Water Treatment Systems?
It depends on the filtration system. Steam distillation systems remove 100% of fluoride content. Reverse osmosis systems remove between 65% and 95% of the fluoride. On the other hand, water softeners and charcoal/carbon filters generally do not remove fluoride, although some activated carbon filters contain activated alumina that may remove over 80% of the fluoride.
How Do I Know How Much Fluoride Is In My Home Water?
To find out how much fluoride is in your tap water, ask the team at Tewksbury Dental Associates, serving the Greater Boston communities of Andover, Billerica, Chelmsford, Lowell and Wilmington, Massachusetts. You can also contact your local or state health department, or contact your local water supplier. Information for contacting your local water supplier should be on your water bill or see the”local government” section of your phone book.
Approximately 62% of the U.S. population served by public water supplies has access to adequate levels of fluoride in their water, and 43 of the 50 largest U.S. cities have water fluoridation systems.
How Fluoride Was Discovered
In the early 1900s Frederick McKay, a dentist, noticed that many people who grew up in Colorado (about 90% in one town) had brown staining on their teeth and no decay. McKay traced the source of the staining to the water supply, which was rich in natural fluoride that is common in the western United States.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s many communities started adding fluoridation to the public water supplies to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. Today fluoride is considered essential to pubic health.
In addition we now realize that the protective qualities of fluoride are also derived from its direct contact with tooth enamel. That’s why we advise getting fluoride treatments for your child on a regular basis.