You are so excited about your child’s first teeth that it doesn’t occur to you to think about tooth decay yet. But the fight against tooth decay, according the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), starts from the first baby tooth. That is also when they recommend starting to brush with a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste.
You may be thinking, “What?! My pediatrician (or dentist) told me no fluoride before the age of two years.” You’d be right. This is a BIG change in recommendations, and it is indeed new.
Dental health is important for overall health, and tooth decay can start early. Decay in a young child’s teeth “is the single greatest risk factor” for decay in permanent teeth, according to a recent article by the AAP, which also states that “59% of 12- to 19-year-olds” have at least one cavity.
The administration of fluoride in a proper amount is still one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay, as it preserves the enamel that coats the tooth. Many children and teens don’t get enough fluoride to act against tooth decay.
How to make sure your child is getting enough fluoride:
- Start at the very beginning. As soon as you see the first tooth erupting from the gum, you should brush it with a fluoride toothpaste, but only a very small amount. The AAP guidelines, which you can find here, recommend a “smear” about the size of a grain of rice until the age of three.
- For 3- to 6-year-olds, increase the amount to pea-sized. Brush teeth twice a day, with adult assistance, and make sure that the child doesn’t swallow the toothpaste. It’s even best if they don’t rinse with water.
- Drink tap water. In Scott County the public water is fluoridated, but if you use a well or cistern your water will only contain minimal amounts of fluoride. Bottled water typically doesn’t contain much, if any, fluoride. If you worry about tap water, use a filter.
- Check with your pediatrician or dentist especially if you don’t have public water to make sure your child or teen is getting enough fluoride.
Are there any downsides to using fluoride? Yes, it’s possible to get too much and create a rare condition called fluorosis, that causes discoloration of the teeth. You can read about fluorosis here. Again, this is rare, but if you’re concerned about it, speak to your pediatrician or dentist.
For other information on preventing tooth decay, check out these AAP articles:
- “Brushing Up on Oral Health: Never Too Early to Start” about dental health in babies.
- “Preventing Tooth Decay in Children.”
- “Toothbrushing Tips for Young Children.”
Take good care of your child’s teeth for beautiful smiles throughout their lives.
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