Ahoy Mateys! Taking Care of Little Teeth: Fluoride and the Fight Against Cavities

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Fluoride is a double threat to cavities because it protects teeth by preventing cavities and reverses early signs of tooth decay, strengthening the tooth structure.

You may be startled to learn that tooth decay is the number-one most common chronic childhood disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tooth decay is four times more common than early childhood obesity, five times more common than asthma, seven times more common than hay fever, and twenty times more common than diabetes.

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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reports that about 60% of U.S. children will have had one or more cavities by the age of 5. Poor oral health can have significant short- and long-term implications for young children. Cavities can be painful and impact a child’s ability to chew, swallow, smile, speak, and sleep. If left untreated, they can result in infection and tooth loss and cause a child to miss school or have trouble concentrating in class. Each year, over 51 million school hours are lost due to dental health issues, and low-income children suffer twice as many cavities as their peers.

Fortunately, tooth decay is preventable. However, many parents are unaware of the best ways to help their children fight this formidable foe. To figure out why cavities have reached epidemic proportions and what parents and caregivers can do about it, we consulted one of our favorite experts, Dr. Lauren Companioni, pediatric dentist at South Tampa Kids Dental Krewe. With a pirate themed dental office, complete with ship and crew, Dr. Lauren makes going to the dentist a positive experience for kids; so positive in fact, we actually overheard young patients not wanting to leave!

{ MORE: 5 Tips for Preparing Your Toddler for the Dentist }

In previous interviews with Dr. Lauren, we learned that early dental visits, healthy dietary choices, fluoride, and routine dental practices at home drastically reduce a child's risk for tooth decay. Today, we asked Dr. Lauren to share her expertise with us on the use of fluoride. We asked her about sources of fluoride, its cavity-fighting abilities, and safety considerations.

What is Fluoride?

Parents and patients might be surprised to learn that fluoride is naturally present in all water sources. If little pirates were to voyage by ship, they would find this natural mineral in the ocean as well as lakes, rivers, and streams. Pirates with inquiring scientific minds will be interested to learn that the fluoride ion comes from the 17th most abundant element in the Earth's crust called fluorine. Fluoride ions are released into the water and become part of all water sources as water passes over rock formations, dissolving minerals and fluoride compounds. The amount of fluoride in water varies according to the body of water's depth and mineral concentration.

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Ahoy Mateys! Taking Care of Little Teeth: Fluoride and the Fight Against Cavities

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