Fluoride in it's natural state is a mineral that can be found in air, soil, fresh water, seawater and plants. It is frequently added during the manufacture of toothpaste and other dental hygiene products. Regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste is widely regarded as essential to protect teeth against decay.
Bacteria live on the surfaces of the teeth in a layer called plaque. When we consume food or drink containing sugars, the bacteria convert the sugars into acid which attacks the surface of the tooth. This is the beginning of tooth decay. Fluoride limits the amount of acid produced, helping to prevent decay and repair early signs of tooth decay.
Fluoride can help to protect teeth by:
- protecting against root and surface decay
- preventing early loss of baby teeth due to decay
- reducing the possibility of dental complications associated with tooth decay
Your child's teeth need special protection while they are developing. To encourage good dental habits:
- Begin using a low-fluoride toothpaste after your child is 18 months old.
- Choose an age-appropriate toothpaste and toothbrush.
- Keep the amount of toothpaste used to the size of a pea.
- Teach your child to spit out his toothpaste rather than swallow it.
- Discourage rinsing after brushing.
- Until your child is 8 years old, you should always supervise his teeth brushing.
Don't introduce a regular-strength toothpaste until your child is 6 years old.
From under the gums, your child's adult teeth can become affected by high levels of fluoride. This is called dental fluorosis. In its most common, mild form, it looks like fine, white streaks or flecking in the enamel surface of the tooth and is unnoticeable. In its infrequent, severe form, teeth are discoloured, pitted and difficult to clean. Once your child's teeth are fully formed, the risk of dental fluorosis disappears.
Water fluoridation is the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply with the intention of reducing tooth decay in the general population.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health strongly supports water fluoridation as a safe, effective and affordable way to aid in the prevention and reduction of tooth decay. Fluoride is added to many community water supplies and levels are carefully controlled. The Ministry concludes that from research carried out in the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey, people living in fluoridated areas have, on average, less current or previous tooth decay than those in un-fluoridated areas.
However, water flouridation has met with opposition from a growing number of community groups and health professionals. The blanket approach of water fluoridation in municipal water supplies is being challenged on the basis that it is not required for the prevention of tooth decay and may be doing more harm than good. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where local government still choose to fluoridate public water supplies. The majority of European countries do not fluoridate their water supplies and yet their tooth decay rates have been in decline since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the 1970s, thereby concurring with studies that suggest that the use of water fluoridation may be unnecessary where fluoride toothpaste is widely used. Water fluoridation is being increasingly challenged around the world with regards to its efficacy, the safety of its consumption and the lack of personal choice or consent where water fluoridation occurs.
Fluoride Free NZ is an organisation that was established in 2003 to end water fluoridation in New Zealand, instead focusing on promoting dental hygiene, diet and regular visits to a dental professional. For more information, visit their website, Fluoride Free NZ.
Fluoride helps protect everyone's teeth from decay. If you use the correct fluoride toothpaste for your child, he will be safely receiving the recommended amount.
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This article was written by Ella Walsh with editing and contributions from Julie Scanlon for Kidspot New Zealand. Sources include Vic. Govt's Better Health Channel, Ministry of Health (NZ) and Fluride Action Network NZ Inc
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