Did you know tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease – even more prevalent than asthma? Toothaches and dental problems can impact a child’s ability to eat, sleep, learn and socialize with other kids.
Preventing Tooth Decay Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth (plaque) break down sugars in food and produce damaging acid that dissolve the hard enamel surfaces of teeth.
The good news is that there are proven strategies to prevent cavities. For example, adding fluoride to a community’s drinking water is one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of protecting children and adults from tooth decay.
What is Fluoride and How Does it Work? Fluoride is a natural element found in rocks and soil, and a low concentration of fluoride is found in most waters. Fluoride prevents tooth decay by making teeth stronger and more resistant to acid attacks. It also helps with slowing down or stopping the decay process.
When fluoride levels in water are at optimal levels, it helps to protect teeth against cavities. This is why so many community water systems add additional fluoride – a process called “fluoridation.”
If your child is drinking bottled water with less than the optimal amount of fluoride, the risk for tooth decay increases. And if you use well water or water from a private source, your dentist may recommend checking fluoride levels to determine if supplementation is needed after reviewing your child’s risks for cavities.
What are Other Sources of Fluoride?
Toothpaste is another source of fluoride that all children should use. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents start brushing the child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth comes in.
For children under three years of age, a ‘smear’ or ‘rice-size’ amount of fluoridated toothpaste and for children ages three to six a ‘pea-size’ amount is appropriate. Parents should supervise brushing of younger children to assure they are not swallowing excessive amounts of toothpaste and help them with brushing techniques.
Fluoride mouth rinses can also help with preventing cavities, but they are not recommended for children under age 6 as they are not be able to swish and spit. Other ways to fight cavities are limiting sugar consumption and switching to sugar-free drinks, regular visits to the dentist (first visit at age one), and placing sealants (protective polish) on teeth.
Homa Amini, DDS, MS, MPH, is chief of the Section of Pediatric Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry.
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