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Healthy Kids: Fluoride Can Help Protect Teeth From Cavities and Decay

By Kelli Warner & Eugene Pediatric Associates

It takes more than regular brushing to keep children’s teeth healthy. Fluoride also plays an important role in preventing cavities and tooth decay.

“Fluoride helps to remineralize the teeth,” says Dr. Jordan Lentfer with Oregon Kids Pediatric Dentistry in Eugene. “It helps to fight bacteria and create a stronger material within your tooth than just the calcium phosphate alone.”

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a chemical ion of fluorine, the 13th most abundant element on Earth. It can make tooth enamel more resistant to the acids that cause cavities and tooth decay.

Since most of our local communities, including Eugene and Springfield, do not have fluoridated drinking water, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends using a fluoride toothpaste and talking with your dentist or pediatrician about whether your child could benefit from a fluoride supplement. Studies have shown that children who receive fluoride treatments have fewer cavities than those who do not.

Fluoride-free substitutes are also available, including xylitol, which is derived from fibrous, woody plants.

Dr. Lentfer says, “Xylitol is a natural sweetener that helps to bond onto the tooth in the same way that the bad bacteria does, so it can help prevent decay in that manner.”

While long-term studies conclude that xylitol is not as successful at preventing cavities and decay as fluoride, it’s been shown to be one of the best non-fluoride alternatives.

Tips for a healthy mouth

In addition to seeing your dentist twice a year, help reduce the risk of cavities by:

  • Encouraging your children to brush their teeth twice a day.
  • Helping them learn to floss.
  • Limiting foods high in processed carbohydrates and sugar, including juice, soda and sticky foods.

“Anything in a box or a bag is probably going to cause a cavity, so focus on diet and hygiene,” says Dr. Lentfer. “Keep those teeth clean, keep all that sticky gunk off of them, and then choose whichever toothpaste or product may be best for your child.”