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Preventing Decay In Your Childrens' Teeth

Why do we need fluoride?

Fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay.

During tooth decay, the action of the bacteria in your mouth (that live in dental plaque) together with sugar and other carbohydrates in the diet produce acid.

This acid causes demineralisation (softening) of the tooth enamel so that eventually a cavity can form. This is more likely in inaccessible areas where plaque is left undisturbed.

If there has been no sugar eaten recently, the demineralisation stops and some remineralisation starts (hardening). This process of softening and hardening of enamel happens continuously throughout the day but there are certain ways we can promote more hardening and decrease the amount of softening.

One of these ways is to try to reduce the amount of bacterial plaque in our mouths by thorough brushing.

Another way is to decrease the amount and frequency of sugar intake throughout the day.

The other way is to increase our intake of fluoride so that there is a higher concentration of fluoride in our mouths. If there is plenty of fluoride in our mouths then the softening during the decay process is less severe and hardening is more likely.

How can we get more fluoride?

Fluoride is contained naturally in certain foods and drinks, for example tea and fish. It is also present in some tap and mineral water. However these sources are usually insufficient for the ideal amounts of fluoride needed to protect teeth so other ways are required. The main way that we can get enough fluoride is by using fluoride toothpaste. Most toothpaste contains fluoride but there are different strengths of fluoride in different toothpastes. You need to look for the strength by looking for a number followed by "ppm" on the packet. The ideal strengths are given below.

Other ways of getting more fluoride include supplements, mouth rinses and varnishes but you should discuss with your dentist as to whether this is necessary as too much fluoride can cause marks on teeth so care is required with the dosage.

Current guidelines for prevention of decay and fluoride use

Children aged 0-3 years
  • Parents should brush or supervise brushing.
  • Use only a smear of toothpaste containing no less than 1000ppm fluoride.
  • As soon as teeth erupt in the mouth, brush them twice daily.
  • Sugar should not be added to weaning foods.
  • The frequency and amount of sugary food and drinks should be reduced and when consumed, limited to mealtimes. Sugars should not be consumed more than four times per day.
  • Sugar-free medicines should be recommended.
Children aged 3-6 years
  • Brushing should be supervised by an adult.
  • Brush twice a day - last thing at night and on one other occasion.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing 1350 - 1500ppm fluoride.
  • Spit out after brushing and do not rinse.
  • The frequency and amount of sugary food and drinks should be reduced and when consumed, limited to mealtimes. Sugars should not be consumed more than four times per day.
  • Sugar-free medicines should be recommended.
Children over 7 years and young adults
  • Follow guidelines above for children aged 3-6 years but now use a normal amount of toothpaste on the brush (1350ppm fluoride or above)

Children at high risk of developing decay

Certain children are more likely than others to develop decay and so may need more fluoride than the average. Your dentist will assess your child during the examination appointment and consider using extra fluoride sources if required.

If you have any questions about this leaflet, please ask your dentist.



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