Fluoride & Your Child
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that is essential for proper tooth development and the prevention of decay.
How Fluoride Helps
The protective outer layer of teeth, called enamel, is often subject to attacks from harmful acids. These acids can sometimes come directly from acidic foods and beverages, such as sodas and citrus fruits. They can also come from decay-causing bacteria created when acid from sugar combines with naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria congregates in dental plaque and feed on sugar that is not properly cleaned from your child’s mouth. The metabolizing sugar and bacteria produce acids that eat through the tooth enamel. This is how cavities are formed. When fluoride is introduced, it becomes part of the crystalline structure of tooth enamel, hardening it and making it more resistant to attack. Fluoride can help repair small cavities that have already been forming.
Delivering Fluoride to the Teeth
Fluoride ingested by children from Chicago’s drinking water or supplements isn’t always enough, the permanent teeth can oftentimes hoard the fluoride leaving the baby teeth low on supply. Once a tooth has erupted, it can be strengthened by fluoride topically (on the surface). Using a fluoride-containing toothpaste is one way to make sure your children’s teeth receive helpful fluoride exposure daily. We recommend using only a pea-sized amount for children ages 2-6 and just a tiny smear for kids under two. Fluoride should not be used on children younger than six months. A very beneficial way to deliver fluoride to the teeth is with topical fluoride applications right here at the dental office. We can paint it right onto your child’s freshly cleaned teeth and let it sit for a few minutes for maximum effectiveness.
How Much is Too Much Fluoride?
Teeth that are over-exposed to fluoride as they are forming beneath the gum line can develop a condition called enamel fluorosis, which is characterized by a streaked or mottled appearance. Mild fluorosis takes the form of white spots that are hard to see. In more severe cases (which are rare), the discoloration can be darker, with a pitted texture. The condition is not harmful, but may eventually require cosmetic dental treatment. Tooth decay, on the other hand, is harmful to your child’s health and can also be quite painful in severe cases.
The risk for fluorosis ends by the time a child is about 9 and all the permanent teeth have fully formed. Until then, we would be happy to discuss with you how much fluoride your child needs and in what form. Since fluoride use is cumulative, we need to take into account all the sources your child comes in contact with — including powdered infant formula mixed with fluoridated tap water — along with sugar consumption and other risk factors for decay, to make the appropriate recommendation. But while caution is advised, it would be a mistake to forgo the benefits that this important mineral can bring to your child’s teeth — and his or her overall health.