How important is oral fluoride? I’ve heard some parents give it to their kids and others don’t.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children and adolescents. In fact, over half of the children in the United States have a cavity in a baby tooth by 8 years of age. Anyone who has ever had a bad cavity can attest that pain, infection and disruption of daily life often occur.
Thankfully, we have many tools in our toolbox to help combat this ubiquitous health concern. One of the safest and effective of these tools is the naturally occurring mineral fluoride. Fluoride works by rebuilding strong enamel on teeth which is partially broken down when damaged by oral acids. These acids are produced when we consume sugars and other carbohydrates.
Appropriate and safe use of fluoride can come in many forms. One of the most cost-effective and equitable uses of fluoride is community water fluoridation. The CDC estimates that fluoride added to community water in carefully calculated quantities can reduce cavities by approximately 25%, and at a very minimal cost. The dollars spent on such programs are more than offset by the money saved by avoiding costly dental procedures and missed days of work and school.
Other effective forms of fluoride include regular daily toothpaste and mouthwashes, as well as prescription toothpaste, prescription varnishes and supplemental tablets. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children use fluoride toothpaste twice daily.
For children under the age of 2 a small smear of toothpaste should be used, the size of a grain of rice. For children aged 3 to 6 years, a pea-size amount of toothpaste should be used. When considering using supplements, prescription varnishes or other forms of fluoride, a qualified medical professional should be consulted to determine safe usage based on age, current exposure to fluoride, risk level and other health factors.