Winter 2015 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Oral Health Update

Oral Health Update

Oral health and public health experts have updated the recommendations to prevent cavities (dental caries) for children less than 5 years of age. What’s new is a strong recommendation for the child’s pediatrician or dentist to apply fluoride varnish every 3 to 6 months, starting as soon as possible. Painting the teeth with fluoride varnish is easy. Good research shows that fluoride varnish reduces caries by as much as 59%. Painting fluoride varnish on the teeth protects the outside layer of tooth enamel for “baby teeth.” Baby teeth start forming before birth. Most finish developing during the first year of life. The formed teeth start to come up during the first year, and finish coming up by the time the child is three years old.

In addition, young children should drink water that contains recommended amounts of fluoride. Taking fluoride in drinking water or as a supplement hardens the permanent teeth as they are forming. When drinking water doesn’t contain fluoride, children should take a fluoride supplement. The child’s health professional should prescribe the right amount. Taking too much fluoride can make white spots on the teeth. Best practice is to combine use of fluoride varnish with taking recommended amounts of oral fluoride.

The 2014 recommendations for oral health from the American Academy of Pediatrics are:

Reduce exposure to sugars in foods and drinks. Brush a child’s teeth as soon as teeth erupt. Teach tooth brushing by doing it as a daily routine after a meal. Until children are 3 years of age, use a smear (a grain-of-rice–sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste. Thereafter, use a pea-sized amount. Monitor tooth brushing by adult observation until 8 years of age. Follow the local dentists’ guidelines for daily fluoride administration and supplementation. The amount depends on how much fluoride is in the water the child drinks. Urge families to ask their child’s pediatrician or dentist to routinely apply fluoride varnish to protect the teeth against cavities as soon as possible. Build and maintain collaborative relationships with local dentists who accept young children as patients. Recommend that families connect each child with a dentist by 1 year of age.

If local dentists do not provide care to very young children, then the child’s health care professional should examine the teeth, teach families about preventive tooth care, apply fluoride varnish and prescribe needed fluoride supplements.

Adapted from the December 2014 Policy Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the 2014 recommendations for fluoride use from the United States Preventive Services Task Force