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What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is the ionic form of the element fluorine, a naturally-occurring substance. When combined with other elements like sodium, fluoride ions form a compound called sodium fluoride, which is the active ingredient in many toothpaste.

Fluoride works in many ways to prevent tooth cavities and decay. For children, it is important for tooth development because fluoride combines into the crystals forming the enamel, which is the hard outer layer of the teeth. Development of the enamel happens in children up to the age of 8, when the teeth is growing under the gums. Fluoride in the enamel makes the teeth resistant to demineralization.

How Does Fluoride Protect Your Child’s Dental Health?

Fluoride has many caries-protective actions. When applied topically, it has been found that low levels of fluoride in saliva and plaque prevent demineralization of tooth enamel and boost enamel by replacing nutrients. Fluoride also prevents development of dental cavities by inhibiting the activity of cariogenic bacteria – the specific bacteria that causes caries.

Certain types of bacteria in our oral cavity break down the carbs we eat and along the process, they produce acid which causes lowering of pH in the mouth. When this happens, the enamels begins to break down and release minerals such as phosphate, calcium and fluoride (this is called demineralization).

If there is sufficient fluoride available on the teeth’s surface, it will alleviate the process before tooth decay occurs. In fact, it can remineralize tiny areas affected by decay. Such cycles of remineralisation and demineralization continue all throughout the life of a healthy tooth.

Aside from tooth remineralisation and remodelling, fluoride also protects the teeth with its direct antibacterial effect. When fluoride ions enters the bacterial cells, they inhibit the enzyme responsible for the production of acid.

On the other hand, high levels of fluoride, particularly those applied as varnishes or topical gels, provide a temporary covering of calcium fluoride-like element on the surface of the enamel.

Fluoride that is swallowed, such in the case of dietary supplements and fluoridated water, may provide benefits on erupted teeth. Fluoride supplementation is effective in lowering prevalence of caries and must be considered for kids who are at high risk of dental caries because of drinking fluoride-deficient water.

 How Much Fluoride Do Kids Need?

The amount of fluoride will be based on the child’s age. Sufficient levels of ingested fluoride are usually obtained through dietary sources, particularly if the child is living in a place with fluoridated water. However, children below the age of 2 must not receive any form of topical fluoride as they have the tendency to swallow them.

Between the ages of 2 and 6, children must use toothpaste that contains children’s strength amount of fluoride. Brushing must also be supervised by the parents to make sure they will only use a pea-size amount and then spit it out when finished.

Brushing twice a day is important. It will not only get rid of dental plaque, it will also make sure that the teeth are protected to fluoride. Topical fluoride sources such as gels, rinses and varnishes but be sure to consult your pediatric dentist first to know if these are suitable for your child.