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The Importance of Fluoride for Children

Pediatrics Dentists

Updated on Nov 18, 2014

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Why is fluoride important, especially for our youth? It is effective in preventing and even reversing the early signs of tooth decay. Over the past few decades, fluoride has successfully reduced tooth decay dramatically. Research has shown that fluoride reduces cavities in both children as well as adults. Early stages of tooth decay have been repaired due to fluoride, even before the decay becomes visible. Children require fluoride to protect their permanent teeth as they are forming and adults need it to protect their teeth from decay. When appropriately used, it is safe and effective.

Fluoride treatments are an important part of healthy oral care for both children and adults. Researchers have discovered that fluoride makes tooth structure stronger so teeth are more resistant to acid attacks. When the bacteria in plaque breaks down sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, acid is formed. Cavities are caused by repeated acid attacks which break down the tooth and erode enamel. Fluoride repairs existing damage to teeth and strengthens the enamel by remineralizing the areas where acid attacks have begun. This process is called remineralization and is important because it reverses the early decay process and creates a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay.

According to the National Health Service, fluoride interrupts the process of tooth decay by altering the structure of the developing enamel to make it more resistant to acid attacks. As a child’s enamel develops (before he/she is seven years old), these structural changes occur. Fluoride provides an environment for better quality enamel to form which is more resistant to acid and reduces the bacteria in plaque which is a major cause of tooth decay.

Not only is topical fluoride important, but youth also require ingested (or systemic) fluoride to help in the development of strong, healthy adult teeth. For strengthening existing teeth in the mouth, topical fluorides make them more decay-resistant. Examples of topical fluorides include toothpastes, mouthwashes and professionally applied fluoride therapies. The fluorides that are ingested into the body and become included in forming tooth structure are systemic. The systemic type can also give topical protection due to fluoride being present in saliva which continually bathes the teeth. Some systemic fluorides include fluoridated water or dietary supplements such as tablets, drops or lozenges. Raw fruits including apples, bananas, cantaloupe, cherries, peaches and strawberries contain systemic fluorides as well as raw vegetables like lettuce, radishes, carrots and tomatoes. Eggs, milk and cream are another alternative way to receive dietary fluoride. The reason these purchased foods contain fluoride is due to mass fluoridation of water supplies and the introduction of fluoride-based pesticides.

The most effective and inexpensive means of obtaining the fluoride required to prevent tooth decay is through community or tap water. Scientists in the early 1930’s discovered that people who were brought up in areas with naturally fluoridated water had up to two-thirds fewer cavities in comparison to those who lived in areas where the water was not fluoridated. It has been proven through studies that water fluoridation remains effective in reducing tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent. Due to the overwhelming results of scientific evidence which establishes that community water fluoridation is safe and effective, leading health organizations, including the American Dental Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry all support this method.

Because of the widespread availability of various sources of fluoride, the tooth decay rates in the U.S. as well as other countries has greatly been reduced. For effective prevention of decay, it is important to note that a proper mix of both topical and systemic forms are required. Ask your dentist to help you judge whether you are receiving adequate levels of fluoride from both forms.
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