Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and water. Every day, your teeth are going through two processes: mineralization and demineralization, during which minerals are being added (mineralization) and lost (demineralization) from the enamel of your teeth. This happens each time you eat or drink anything. Demineralization can occur when acids, formed by plaque bacteria and sugars in your mouth, attack the enamel. It’s important to counter demineralization by adding minerals back to the enamel through mineralization.
Minerals such as fluoride, calcium and phosphate mineralize the enamel and help to protect the tooth by making it more resistant to the acid attacks. Fluoride can also help to reverse early tooth decay. In children younger than six, fluoride is important in the development of permanent teeth, as it strengthens the enamel, making it harder to demineralize.
Concerns over fluoride exist due to the fact that it can be toxic in extremely high doses. Anderson Pediatric Dentistry recognizes that parents should follow proper guidelines when using fluoride at home, but we also want to educate and encourage parents about the benefits of applying fluoride varnish to your child’s teeth at their regular dental appointments.
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages the use of fluoride for both oral and overall health in children and has established the following guidelines, which are consistent with what pediatric dentists recommend:
- Fluoridated toothpaste is recommended for all children starting at tooth eruption, regardless of caries risk.
- A smear (the size of a grain of rice) of toothpaste should be used up to age 3. After the 3rd birthday, a pea-sized amount may be used. Parents should dispense toothpaste for young children and supervise and assist with brushing. Children are encouraged to always spit their tooth paste out after brushing.
- Fluoride varnish applications are recommended every 3–6 months starting at tooth emergence. Frequency is determined by each child’s risk of tooth decay.
- Over-the counter fluoride rinse is not recommended for children younger than 6 years due to risk of swallowing higher-than-recommended levels of fluoride.