Does my child need a fluoride supplement?
Dentists frequently field questions from parents regarding fluoride such as, “does my child need fluoride drops or tablets”, and “does fluoride really help prevent cavities?”
These are great questions because the city of Walla Walla does not add fluoride to the water supply and private wells in this area have a very low natural fluoride content.
But first, what is fluoride? Fluoride is a trace mineral found in rocks, soil and in varying concentrations in natural water sources across the United States.
Fluoride is also part of the natural mineral structure of the enamel of a healthy tooth. In optimal levels it hardens the enamel making it more resistant to attack by acids from bacteria, food and drinks.
Its’ beneficial effects against tooth decay were first noticed in the early 1900’s. Dr. Frederick McKay and Dr. G.V. Black were trying to figure out what caused the residents of Colorado Springs to have brown, pitted discolored teeth.
Curiously, they found that teeth afflicted by the so-called “Colorado Brown Stain” were mysteriously resistant to decay. Through persistent effort Dr. McKay discovered that excess fluoride in the water source caused the teeth to discolor, but ironically saved the teeth from cavities.
“Research continued and in 1944,the City Commission of Grand Rapids, Michigan, voted to add fluoride to its public water supply. In 1945, Grand Rapids became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water.
During the 15-year project, researchers monitored the rate of tooth decay among Grand Rapids’ almost 30,000 schoolchildren. After just 11 years, Dr. H. Trendley Dean, director of the National Institute of Dental Research, announced an amazing finding.
The caries (cavity) rate among Grand Rapids children born after fluoride was added to the water supply dropped more than 60 percent.
This finding, considering the thousands of participants in the study, amounted to a giant scientific breakthrough that promised to revolutionize dental care, making tooth decay for the first time in history a preventable disease for most people.” You can read more about this at www.nidcr.nih.gov.
According to fluorideinfo.org, “more recently, the benefit in cavity reduction (from adding fluoride to municipal water) appears to be 30-40 percent. The difference (from the Grand Rapids study) may be attributed to use of fluoridated toothpaste and the prevalence of fluoridated water in packaged foods and beverages”.
The kids who benefit the most from fluoridated municipal water are those whose parents aren’t able to access the health care and dental care system.
In addition to community water fluoridation there are at least two scientifically tested methods of introducing carefully controlled amounts of fluoride.
For kids at high risk of decay, a dentist or pediatrician may write a prescription for fluoride supplements. These are taken by swallowing in the form of drops, lozenges or tablet supplements. When fluoride is swallowed as part of supplements, water, or foods, it is incorporated throughout the forming enamel of kids’ permanent teeth.
The second method is by direct application to the teeth at the dental office. Fluoride that is professionally applied by the use of foams or gels strengthens the outer layer of enamel making it more resistant to attack by acid.
A 24-month study showed a 41 percent reduction in cavities in 6- to 7-year-olds given fluoride foam/gel treatments at twice-yearly cleaning appointments.
The current scientific wisdom is that unless a child is at high risk for cavities, fluoride supplements aren’t necessary.
For high risk young patients supplements may be given from the age of six months to about six years of age, or until the permanent teeth are completely formed below the gums. More important than fluoride supplements is for parents to limit sugar in their kids’ diet, help the child daily brush and floss and visit their dentist every six months.
Your dentist will be happy to discuss whether or not fluoride supplements are appropriate in your child’s particular situation.
Dr. Eric Gustavsen practices dentistry at Southpoint Dental Center, 1129 S. Second Ave. More information on his practice can be found at www.southpointdentalcenter.com.