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Cavities

Facts About Fluoride (for Adults and Older Kids)

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Toothbrush with paste amount

Fluoride IS a Good Thing

We spoke about fluoride and young children in our previous Smile Blog originally posted September 29, 2015, Kids and Fluoride, but we wanted to revisit the topic to discuss how fluoride can be a huge benefit to mouths of all ages.  Originally designed to combat tooth decay, fluoride has LOTS of benefits when it comes to cavities.  Dentists recommend fluoride use in different applications to both treat and prevent decay.   For example, if you look at the ingredients list on your tube of toothpaste, fluoride is typically included.  Some of us may have even been instructed by our dentists to rinse with fluoride mouthwash growing up.  And dentists also use fluoride trays to help treat cavity-ridden teeth as an in-office procedure.

It’s All about Moderation

However, just like most other things in life, moderation is key.  Over-use of fluoride can cause fluorosis, or permanent tooth discoloration, or even more serious problems, especially for young kids who don’t understand to spit out their toothpaste rather than eat it.  Which is why many of these same tubes of toothpaste also contain a poison warning on it.  In fact, the FDA has required it since 1997 for every one containing fluoride that is sold in the U.S.  And according to fluorideallert.org, the risks from over-ingestion of fluoride include the potential for “stomach ailments, acute toxicity, skin rashes (perioral dermatitis), and impairment in glucose metabolism.”

This is why it is recommended to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush your teeth.  Most of us are probably guilty of being overgenerous in our applications.  It’s an innocent mistake, really.  If you watch toothpaste commercials or look at advertised images of a toothbrush with paste on it, rarely will you see a smear or pea-sized amount (as shown above on the image from dear doctor); rather, a huge swirly glob artistically placed on the bristles is the common image we are all accustomed to seeing.

“But I don’t want cavities,” you might say.  “What if I don’t use enough toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay?”

Other Sources of Fluoride

Luckily these days, we can realize the benefits of fluoride in other ways than just brushing our teeth.  As explained in our previous Smile Blog about Kids and Fluoride, we are also getting fluoride through our local water supply.  In fact, According to kidshealth.org, “as of 2012, CDC statistics show that more than 60% of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water through the taps in their homes,” whether it’s naturally occurring in their water or added at processing plants.  You can even check the Environmental Protection Agency’s database to find out what’s in your water.  The same website demonstrates that water fluoridation is actually estimated today to reduce tooth decay by “20%-40%.”  And it’s been doing so safely for over 60 years.  The American Dental Association even cites the CDC as naming it “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

Conclusion

Fluoride is a good thing as long as it’s used properly.  Like most other things that are good for you (nuts and fish oil, for example), it’s only the overuse of a good thing that could cause problems.  That’s why a lot of dentists these days recommend that children don’t begin using fluoride toothpaste until around age 6.  But this shouldn’t stop you from taking advantage of its benefits altogether.  After all, tooth decay is still the more serious issue and if our dentists trust fluoride to help minimize cavities, then so should we.  The important takeaway here is to be informed and to ask your dentist if you have any questions about this or any other mouth related topic.

Kids and Fluoride

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Emery Brushing Teeth

Have you ever watched a child put toothpaste on their toothbrush?  It’s not usually the delicate pea-sized amount that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for kids 3 and older.  Even for younger kids, the AAP says only to use a “smear (grain of rice amount)” prior to the 3rd birthday.  But, why is it that the amount of toothpaste is such a big deal?

Too Much Toothpaste is Dangerous

Because of the fluoride.  Most of us know the HUGE benefit of fluoride—it helps to prevent tooth decay and cavities.  Dentists recommend fluoride use in different applications to both treat and prevent decay.   However, when it comes to small kids (ages 6 and younger), there are lots of potential issues which can be caused by fluoride as well.

According to fluorideallert.org, “children who swallow too much fluoride toothpaste can suffer acute poisoning, even death.  In fact a single tube of bubble-gum flavored Colgate-for-Kids toothpaste contains enough fluoride (143 mg) to kill a child weighing less than 30 kg (Whitford 1987a),” or 66.14 pounds.

Toothpaste for Kids

This is why introducing our children to toothpaste containing fluoride isn’t something parents should do too early.  Lots of kids will ingest the toothpaste even if they are old enough to “know better,” simply because a lot of those on the market have added flavoring like bubble gum or fruit juices to make them more appealing.

Children also don’t have the best swallowing reflexes, so they may be ingesting more of the paste than is physically safe whether they, or you, realize it or not.  Several of these kid-targeted toothpastes with fluoride will say they are safe for an age as young as 2 years, though many dentists recommend waiting until the age of 6 or older to let your child use fluoride toothpaste, simply because then you know they will be spitting it out.  It will benefit their teeth without getting ingested.

So, without fluoride toothpaste, how do parents ensure children are getting the actual amounts that are needed to perform the benefit that fluoride was designed to do, which is prevent tooth decay?

Here’s the Good News

The answer is water.  Parents are instructed to brush their babies’ new teeth simply with a toothbrush and tap water.  And parents of toddler-aged children have probably had the discussion with their pediatricians or dentists about the type of water their children drink.  Tap or filtered water from the refrigerator is safest, and beware of giving them only bottled water.  Why?  Because our local water supplies contain fluoride.  According to kidshealth.org in fact, “as of 2012, CDC statistics show that more than 60% of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water through the taps in their homes,” whether it’s naturally occurring in their water or added at processing plants.  You can even check the Environmental Protection Agency’s database to find out what’s in your water.  The same website demonstrates that water fluoridation is actually estimated today to reduce tooth decay by “20%-40%.”  And it’s been doing so safely for over 60 years.  The American Dental Association even cites the CDC as naming it “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

These days, not all tap water is convenient to drink (or has the best flavor depending on where you live).  No worries there either.  Many bottling companies have joined the fluoride wave by adding it to their bottled water as well.  Just check the label—most of them will advertise it right on the front because they want you to know they’ve taken that extra step.

Alternative Toothpastes

If you are concerned at all about your children ingesting too much fluoride, there are other toothpaste options readily available than the fruity, bubblegum ones with cute cartoon characters on the outside.  Feel free to ask your dentist for a good suggestion.  Some alternatives, like xylitol-based toothpastes, can also help prevent other health issues like ear infections.  Toothpastes like these are either sold at your dentist’s office, your local health food store, or easily found through an online retailer.

Got Cavities?

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We all know that our dentists tell us to schedule cleanings twice a year, but how much thought have we actually given to why?

Regular cleanings and dental visits are important for several reasons, but just like taking your car to the shop for oil changes, tire rotations and periodic checkups, the most important reason for getting your teeth checked semi-annually by a professional is maintenance.  Dentists are around for more than just those emergency calls when we chip a tooth, for example, or feel shooting nerve pain.  They are actually there to help us prevent serious dental issues as much as possible, by performing those regular cleanings and taking x-ray pictures (typically on an annual basis) so that they can try to catch problems early, and hopefully before they become BIG issues.

When’s the Last Time You Checked?

It costs a lot less (and is a lot less painful) to get a cavity filled, for example, then to have a tooth pulled or get a root canal.  Sure, these things can’t always be avoided, but if there’s a chance they can, why not take it?  Most dental benefit plans actually cover these regular maintenance visits because they want you to take good care of your teeth, too.  It costs them less money in the long run.

According to a recent Time magazine article citing research conducted by the CDC, 91% of Americans have had tooth decay in their lifetimes, and a whopping 25% percent of us have one right now that isn’t being treated.  That’s a quarter of our population running around with a cavity that could lead to much more serious issues if they don’t schedule an appointment with their dentist now to get it fixed.

And that’s just for adults.  As stated in the same article, tooth decay “is the most chronic disease among kids and adolescents ages 6 to 19,” even though it can be preventable.

Follow These Easy Tips for Cavity Prevention

So, what do you need to do to help prevent cavities for yourself and your family?  Other than those regular checkups we talked about, the ADA recommends the following additional tips for tooth decay prevention:

  1. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste;
  2. Flossing at least once a day;
  3. Drinking water with fluoride (from your tap or refrigerator filter);
  4. Eating fruits and vegetables;
  5. Being cautious of dry mouth; and
  6. Limiting your sugar intake.

Dry mouth can be caused by certain medications, so be sure to discuss prevention tips with your dentist at your regular dental cleanings.  That’s yet another reason why regular visits are so important.  You get that one on one time with your dentist to ask all those questions that may arise in between your visits about how best to care for your mouth, and ultimately your body.  If you haven’t had a regular cleaning in a while or are due for one soon, be sure to give us a call at Atlanta Smiles and Wellness to schedule it.