For the longest time, the American Dental Association (ADA) and other dental groups advised parents to begin brushing their children's teeth with fluoride toothpaste starting when the kids turned two years old. However, in 2014, the organization made a surprising change to their recommendations and now tells parents to start as early as when their babies' first tooth comes in. Here's more information about this change in stance.
The Research Behind the Change
The change in the ADA's position came about after a study looking at how effective the use of toothpaste in children under 6 years of age was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association. The people who conducted the research looked at the results of 17 previous studies and came to the conclusion that using fluoride toothpaste starting a very young age was effective at preventing tooth decay.
Dental caries in children is a serious issue. About 25 percent of kids have them when they start kindergarten. Unfortunately, children who develop cavities that young are more likely to also get them when they become adults. It appears the ADA hopes that by getting parents to start treating kids' teeth with fluoride from the moment the first one grows in, that fewer children will have to deal with oral health problems later on.
Why Starting Early Can Help
Fluoride acts on the teeth in two ways to strengthen them against cavities. First, babies typically consume small amounts of fluoride when they drink breast milk or infant formula. Later on, children get small amounts of fluoride from drinking water. The fluoride bonds to teeth while they are developing and forms an internal barrier. When the child starts brushing with fluoride toothpaste, the chemical further bonds to the exterior of the tooth and acts as a shield against the damage caused by bacteria in the mouth.
While starting fluoride treatment early is good advice, it's critically important that you take care and avoid giving your child too much of the substance. Children generally don't learn to spit out toothpaste until they are around five years old, so there is a fairly high risk kids younger than that will swallow the fluoride. If they are getting fluoride from other sources as well, they could end up overdosing on the chemical and developing a condition called dental fluorosis.
This condition causes teeth to develop white streaks, spots, or specks. It's not harmful to a person's health, but it can lead to a visually unappealing smile.
If you think your child can benefit from having their teeth brushed with fluoride, speak to a pediatric dentist like Russell Pollina, DDSRussell Pollina, DDS about the issue. The dentist can show you how to safely apply the toothpaste and provide tips on other ways you can protect your kid's oral health.