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Why Is Fluoride Important to Your Oral Health?

Patients sometimes ask us to explain why fluoride is so helpful in preventing cavities and to overall oral health. So we thought in this blog we would provide an overview of fluoride and how it helps protect your teeth from cavities.

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral compound that helps prevent cavities in children and adults by making the outer surface of your teeth (enamel) more resistant to the acid attacks that cause tooth decay.

Fluoride is especially important to young children, since it strengthens the child’s tooth enamel even before the teeth break through the gums. The hard surface of the tooth enamel is what resists tooth decay, so strengthening the tooth enamel makes it easier for a child to resist tooth decay. This benefit is what we call systemic because the fluoride is ingested from foods, beverages and dietary supplements that are consumed.

Once your child’s teeth break through their gums, fluoride will help remineralize tooth enamel (which strengthens it) and reverse early tooth decay. The application of fluoride at this stage is called topical since it is being applied directly to the teeth. This topical application comes through brushing with fluoridated toothpaste or mouth rinses. You can still enjoy the benefits of systemic fluoride through what you drink and eat because it becomes part of your saliva, which is constantly coating your teeth with small amounts of fluoride that help repair tooth enamel that has been weakened.

Most communities add fluoride to their public water supply to increase the level of fluoride up to a level that will help prevent tooth decay. Before water was fluoridated, children had three times as many cavities. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proclaimed community water fluoridation one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century because of the importance it has played in reducing tooth decay.

For children younger than 3 years, start brushing their teeth as soon as they start to appear in the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. For children 3 to 6 years old, use no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Always supervise your child’s brushing to make sure they use the right amount and try to get your child to spit out most of the toothpaste.

Mouthwash with fluoride can help make your teeth more resistant to decay, but children six years or younger should not use it unless it’s been recommended by a dentist. Many children younger than 6 are more likely to swallow it than spit it out because their swallowing reflexes aren’t fully developed.
If you have a good chance of getting cavities, your dentist can apply fluoride directly to your teeth during your dental visit with a gel, foam or rinse.

Available by prescription only, fluoride supplements come in tablet, drop or lozenge forms. They are recommended only for children ages six months to 16 years living in areas without adequate amounts of fluoride in their community drinking water and who are at high risk of developing cavities. Talk to your dentist, pediatrician or family physician about your child’s specific fluoride needs.

SOURCE: American Dental Association

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