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

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Image via Flickr/ Army Medicine

 

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.

What Causes Tooth Decay and How Does Fluoride Fight It?

As little pirates sail the seas, they may be tempted to indulge in tasty treats and sweets from the ship's kitchen and treasure chest. Sadly, cavity-causing bacteria in their mouths delight at this, devouring sugar and turning it into acid plaque. The acid plaque attacks and softens the enamel in their young teeth, which are already more porous and vulnerable to cavities in the first seven years of life. Soon, the pirates' nemesis, tooth decay, moves in and throws a housewarming party, bringing gifts of erosion, damage to the inner pulp of the tooth, and infection. Do little pirates have time for this? No! After all, they have parks, picnics, and play dates to attend to. So what tools can they use to combat these rotten villains? One excellent option, Dr. Lauren suggests, is fluoride.

{ MORE: Tips for Toddler Teeth Care }

Fluoride is a double threat to cavities because it protects teeth in two important ways. It not only helps prevent cavities, but it can also reverse early signs of tooth decay. Fluoride helps strengthen tooth structure, providing protection against acid plaque attacks. It also helps repair and remineralize weakened teeth that are starting to show signs of acid damage.

Dr. Lauren explains there are both systemic and topical forms of fluoride available to little pirates. Both have their own “superhero powers” and play an important role in protecting little teeth. Topical fluorides have the power to strengthen teeth already present in the mouth and make them more resistant to decay. Topical fluorides are applied to the surface of teeth and include toothpaste, mouth rinses, and dentist-applied treatments. Systemic fluorides are ingested and incorporated into the entire tooth structure to make them healthy and strong. They provide long-lasting protection and include fluoridated water, dietary supplements, and certain foods and drinks.

{ MORE: Toddler Teeth Brushing }

Topical Fluoride

1. Self-Applied Fluoride: Toothpaste & Mouth Rinses

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Dr. Lauren explains that pirate families can prevent cavities and promote long-term dental health by establishing routine oral-hygiene habits, like brushing teeth. She says that the earlier you get your baby used to some form of tooth brushing the better. Even before his or her teeth come in, you can clean your baby's gums with a damp washcloth or soft toothbrush and water. Once your baby's teeth begin to surface, she recommends brushing twice a day with a tiny smear of toothpaste and increasing the fluoride toothpaste to a pea-sized amount at ages two through six. Dr. Lauren stresses that children under the age of eight years old often lack the dexterity to brush their teeth thoroughly so it is important for parents to help them brush their teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends parents use a fluoride toothpaste bearing the ADA Seal of Acceptance to ensure proper concentration. The ADA also endorses the use of fluoride mouth rinses for children six years old and above. (Mouth rinses are not recommended for children under six due to the likelihood they may swallow the rinse.)

2. Professionally Applied Fluoride

In addition to toothpaste and mouth rinses used at home, topical fluoride can also be applied professionally at the dentist’s office. These fluorides are more concentrated than self-applied fluorides and hence are not needed as frequently. The ADA recommends that children receive a fluoride treatment at the dentist’s office once every six months.

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

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