We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
A baby’s teeth begin coming in just a few months after birth—first one or two in the front, and then gradually the rest of them over the next couple of years. We often refer to these primary teeth as deciduous—just like trees of the same description that shed their leaves, a child’s primary teeth will all be gone by around puberty.
It’s easy to think of them as “minor league,” while permanent teeth are the real superstars. But although they don’t last long, primary teeth play a big role in a person’s dental health well into their adult years.
Primary teeth serve two needs for a child: enabling them to eat, speak and smile in the present; but more importantly, helping to guide the developing permanent teeth to erupt properly in the future. Without them, permanent teeth can come in misaligned, affecting dental function and appearance and increasing future treatment costs.
That’s why we consider protecting primary teeth from decay a necessity for the sake of future dental health. Decay poses a real threat for children, especially an aggressive form known as early childhood caries (ECC). ECC can quickly decimate primary teeth because of their thinner enamel.
There are ways you can help reduce the chances of ECC in your child’s teeth. Don’t allow them to drink throughout the day or to go to sleep at night with a bottle or “Sippy” cup filled with milk, formula, or even juice. These liquids can contain sugars and acids that erode enamel and accelerate decay. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils with a baby or even kissing them on the mouth to avoid the transfer of disease-causing bacteria.
And even before teeth appear, start cleaning their gums with a clean, wet cloth right after feeding. After teeth appear, begin brushing and flossing to reduce plaque, the main trigger for tooth decay. And you should also begin regular dental visits no later than their first birthday. Besides teeth cleanings and checkups for decay, your dentist has a number of measures like sealants or topical fluoride to protect at-risk teeth from disease.
Helping primary teeth survive to their full lifespan is an important goal in pediatric dentistry. It’s the best strategy for having healthy permanent teeth and a bright dental health future.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a high priority, not only for their health now but for the future too. And that means dealing with their teeth’s most common and formidable enemy, tooth decay.
Your focus, of course, should be on preventing decay through good oral hygiene practices, a healthy diet low in foods with added sugar and regular office visits for cleaning and checkups. But some children at higher risk or who’ve already encountered tooth decay may also need a little extra help in the form of dental sealants.
The most common use of sealants addresses a weakness in young teeth that disease-causing bacteria exploit. Deep grooves known as pits and fissures form within the biting surfaces of developing back teeth and in the rear of front teeth.Â It’s very difficult to reach these areas with daily brushing, so some plaque may be left behind (hence the importance of semi-annual office cleanings).
Inside the mouth, these pits and fissures are in a warm and moist environment and are a haven for bacteria that feed on plaque and produce high levels of acid as a by-product. The acid softens enamel to eventually create a hole, or a “cavity” in the tooth. Children’s young enamel is highly susceptible to this process — it hasn’t developed enough strength to resist the adverse effects of acid.
A “pit and fissure” sealant made of resin fills in the grooves in the teeth to inhibit the buildup of plaque — a kind of “mini” filling. It’s an added layer of protection that complements other prevention efforts. But applying them isn’t an automatic practice — we only recommend it for children at high risk, especially where decay is beginning or it appears the conditions are conducive for it. When needed, though, it can be quite effective in preventing decay or minimizing its effects.
The best way to know if your child could benefit from a sealant is to have them undergo a complete dental exam. From there we can advise you on whether a sealant application is an important investment in their current and future health.
If you would like more information on dental disease prevention for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
To get your child on the right track for lifelong dental health we recommend you begin their dental visits around their first birthday. You can certainly visit your family dentist, especially if you and your family feel comfortable with them. But you also might want to consider a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs.
What's the difference between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist? Both offer the same kind of prevention and treatment services like cleanings, fluoride applications or fillings. But like their counterparts in medicine — the family practice physician and pediatrician — the family dentist sees patients of all ages; the pediatric dentist specializes in care for children and teens only.
In this regard, pediatric dentists undergo additional training to address dental issues specifically involving children. Furthermore, their practices are geared toward children, from toys and child-sized chairs in the waiting room to “kid-friendly” exam rooms decorated to appeal to children.
While your family dentist could certainly do the same, pediatric dentists are also skilled in reducing the anxiety level that's natural for children visiting the dental office. This can be especially helpful if you have a special needs child with behavioral or developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. A pediatric dentist's soothing manner and the calm, happy environment of the office can go a long way in minimizing any related anxiety issues.
Your child may have other needs related to their oral health that could benefit from a pediatric dentist. Some children have a very aggressive form of dental caries disease (tooth decay) called early childhood caries (ECC).Â If not treated promptly, many of their teeth can become severely decayed and prematurely lost, leading to possible bite problems later in life. Pediatric dentists are well-suited to treat ECC and to recognize other developmental issues.
Again, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to your family dentist, especially if a long-term relationship is important to you (your child will eventually “age out” with a pediatric dentist and no longer see them). It's best to weigh this and other factors such as your child's emotional, physical and dental needs before making a decision.
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