Fluoride Is Important for Your Baby’s Teeth

While it looks like babies are born without teeth, that isn’t true. A baby is born with teeth, but they are hidden under the gums and haven’t come out yet.

Just because you can’t see your baby’s teeth yet doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look after them. You made sure to take your prenatal vitamins and eat well during your pregnancy, when your baby’s teeth were developing. One thing to think about now that your baby is born is fluoride, which can help protect your baby’s teeth.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in soil and water. It is also found as an ingredient in oral hygiene products such as toothpastes, mouthwashes, and in some vitamin supplements. Fluoride is important for your baby’s teeth because it helps strengthen the enamel of the teeth, the hard white outer layer of a tooth. Fluoride helps the teeth become stronger and healthier.

A strong layer of enamel helps prevent cavities and tooth decay, which is also known as dental caries. Tooth decay is caused by some types of bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria combine with sugar to create acid that breaks down tooth enamel and causes small pits to develop in the surface of the tooth. Fluoride prevents the acid from breaking down the enamel and helps the teeth repair the damage from the acid.

Tooth decay is not a minor problem. Cavities that are not treated and filled by a dentist can lead to toothaches, infection, abscesses, and the loss of teeth later in your child’s life. Infections in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body.

It is easier and better to prevent tooth decay than to treat it after it has occurred. Because tooth decay is serious, many towns and cities in the United States add fluoride to the public water supply to help prevent it. If you get the water in your home from a well or a private water source, it may naturally contain some fluoride, but may not have enough to help the enamel of the teeth.

Health experts have recommended that fluoride be added to public water supplies, a practice that started decades ago. The American Pediatric Association, the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all state that fluoride in a public water supply is safe. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years get fluoride in some form every day, whether in the water or as a supplement.

However, too much fluoride can cause a problem called dental fluorosis, which causes whiter spots or streaks on the teeth. Usually this occurs only in children under age 8 who have ingested too much fluoride. When your child is old enough to brush their teeth by themselves or use a mouthwash, both of which can contain fluoride, make sure that they do not swallow them. Teach your child to spit out toothpaste after brushing is finished and tell them not to swallow mouthwash.

In some areas, water from wells may contain high levels of fluoride. If your tap water contains high levels of fluoride, you may want to consider using bottled water for drinking, cooking, or when mixing formula.

You can find out if the tap water in your home contains fluoride and how much in one of several ways. If you get your water from a private well, you can have the water tested for fluoride levels. If you get your water from a  public or municipal water supply, you can ask your doctor or dentist about fluoride levels or you can contact the local water company. You can also ask your local public health department whether your water is fluoridated. They can also supply information on how to have your water tested.

If you and your family drink only commercially bottled water, check the label on the bottles to see if there is fluoride added to the water. Some brands of water have fluoride in them either naturally or added by the bottler.

If you don’t have fluoridated water, your child’s pediatrician or dentist may recommend a fluoride supplement if your baby is over age 6 months. This supplement may be in the form of drops or tablets. Babies don’t need fluoride supplements before that age.

Your baby should have an appointment with a dentist when their first teeth come in or by their first birthday. Before teeth come in, you should gently wipe the inside of your baby’s mouth with a clean washcloth twice a day. After they come in, brush your child’s teeth twice a day for two minutes each time.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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