Protecting a child's primary (“baby”) teeth from tooth decay should be a top priority. If one is lost prematurely due to decay, it could cause the permanent tooth to misalign when it comes in.
The basic prevention strategy for every child is daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. But children at higher risk for decay may need more: Â additional fluoride applied to teeth enamel during office visits.
This natural mineral has been shown to strengthen enamel, teeth's protective layer against decay, especially during its early development. Enamel is composed of calcium and phosphate minerals interwoven to form a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Fluoride joins with this structure and changes it to fluorapatite, which is more resistant to mouth acid than the original structure.
We mostly receive fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and dental care products like toothpaste. Topical fluoride takes it a step further with a stronger dose than found in either of these sources. It can be applied with a foam, varnish or gel using an isolation tray (foam or gel) or painted onto the enamel (varnish or gel).
But does topical fluoride effectively reduce the occurrence of decay? Research indicates yes: a recent review of 28 studies involving over 9,000 children found an average 28% reduction in decayed teeth in children who underwent topical fluoride treatments.
There is, though, one potential side effect: children who swallow the fluoride substance can become sick and experience headache, stomach pain or vomiting. This can be avoided with proper precautions when applying it; the American Dental Association also recommends using only varnish for children younger than 6 years. It's also recommended that children receiving gel or foam not eat or drink at least thirty minutes after the treatment (those who receive the varnish aren't restricted in this way).
Topical fluoride is most effective as part of an overall prevention strategy. Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, you can also help reduce your child's decay risk by limiting the amount of sugar in their diet. Sealants, which are applied to the nooks and grooves of teeth where plaque can build up, may also help.