What do you think of when you hear the word “fluoride”? In today’s climate, fluoride has become a hotly debated topic with some parents swearing by it and others rejecting it completely. Fluoride has become an iteration of the vaccine — safe, effective, but tinged with needless controversy.

When used correctly, fluoride is one of the best ways to prevent cavities in children. With tooth decay being the most common disease in children, fluoride is a true golden ticket when it comes to kids’ health.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that has the ability to strengthen enamel. You can find fluoride in an array of different foods including potatoes, rice, carrots, and spinach.

In many places, local governments put low levels of fluoride in the water supply. This has helped dramatically decrease the number of cavities in the United States but there’s still room for further prevention. That’s where professionally-applied fluoride treatments come in.

How do fluoride treatments help prevent cavities?

Fluoride does for your teeth what Vitamin C does for your immune system. It won’t treat a late-stage cavity, just as Vitamin C won’t treat a cold, but it will prevent you from getting one in the first place. Fluoride fortifies the enamel, “remineralizing” while things like acids and plaque “demineralize”. If the balance between remineralization and demineralization leans more to the latter, the result is tooth decay.

Brushing and flossing are the best ways to prevent cavities, but an added dose of fluoride can help keep the more resilient cavities at bay.

What are in-office fluoride treatments like?

In the old days, fluoride treatments required a duck-like mask, a lot of patience, and some gross foamy stuff. Nowadays, in-office fluoride treatments are a lot easier. A dentist can easily and quickly apply a thin fluoride gel to the teeth. Although patients have to wait a few hours before eating and drinking, they can leave the office right away.

When should my child get a fluoride treatment?

When your child is around four or five, we will begin doing fluoride treatments after their cleanings. It’s important to fortify children’s teeth early since they’re at their most porous when they first erupt. How much fluoride they get in their first decade of life will determine the state of their enamel many years down the road.

Is too much fluoride dangerous?

In extreme cases, children can receive too much fluoride. If this happens, their teeth may develop permanent white striations. A lot of parents have stopped wanting to give their children fluoride because they’re scared of this percieved “overdose.” In truth, a child having too much fluoride is extremely rare. Cases where this does happen usually involve another, peculiar factor

For most children, it is more dangerous for children to not receive fluoride treatments. They are much more likely to have tooth decay than a fluoride overdose.