Fluoride, Fillings, & Sealants


Your child brushes her teeth twice a day, flosses regularly, and visits the dentist every six months. But did you know that rinsing with fluoride – a mineral that helps prevent cavities and tooth decay – also helps keep her teeth healthy and strong?

Fluoride is effective in preventing cavities and tooth decay by coating teeth and preventing plaque from building up and hardening on the tooth's surface.

Fluoride comes in two varieties, systemic and topical:

•  Systemic fluoride is ingested, usually through a public water supply. While teeth are forming under the gums, the fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, making it stronger and more resistant to cavities.

•  Fluoride can also be applied topically to help prevent caries (cavities) on teeth present in the mouth. It is delivered through toothpaste, mouthwash, and professional fluoride applications. Professional application of topical fluoride foam and varnishes is also a valuable tool in cavity prevention.

Receiving a Fluoride Treatment From Your Dentist

A fluoride treatment in the dentist's office takes just a few minutes. After the treatment, patients may be asked to not rinse, eat, or drink for at least 30 minutes in order to allow the teeth to absorb the fluoride. Depending on your child's oral health or your doctor's recommendation, your child may be required to have a fluoride treatment every three, six, or 12 months. Your doctor may also prescribe at-home fluoride products such as mouthwash, gels, or antibacterial rinses.

How to Choose the Right Fluoride Treatment

When choosing an at-home fluoride product (such as toothpaste or mouthwash), always check for the American Dental Association's (ADA) seal of acceptance. Products marked with the ADA seal of approval have been carefully examined and approved by the ADA based on safety and effectiveness. 

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Traditional dental restoratives, or fillings, may include gold, porcelain, and composite. The strength and durability of traditional dental materials continue to make them useful for situations where restored teeth must withstand extreme forces that result from chewing, such as in the back of the mouth.

Newer dental fillings include ceramic and plastic compounds that mimic the appearance of natural teeth. These compounds, often called composite resins, are usually used on the front teeth where a natural appearance is important, as well as on the back teeth depending on the location and extent of the tooth decay.

What's Right for Your Child?

Several factors influence the performance, durability, longevity and expense of dental restorations, including:

•  The components used in the filling material

•  The amount of tooth structure remaining

•  Where and how the filling is placed

•  The chewing load that the tooth will have to bear

•  The length and number of visits needed to prepare and adjust the restored tooth

Before your child's treatment begins, your doctor will discuss all options and help you choose the best filling for your child's particular case. It may be helpful to understand the two basic types of dental fillings: direct and indirect.

•  Direct fillings are fillings placed immediately into a prepared cavity in a single visit. They include glass ionomers, resin ionomers, and composite (resin) fillings. The dentist prepares the tooth, places the filling and adjusts it in just one appointment.

Indirect fillings generally require two or more visits. They include inlays, onlays, veneers, crowns, and bridges fabricated with gold, base metal alloys, ceramics, or composites. During the first visit, the dentist prepares the tooth and makes an impression of the area to be restored. The dentist then places a temporary covering over the prepared tooth. The impression is sent to a dental laboratory that creates the dental restoration. At the next appointment, the dentist cements the restoration into the prepared cavity and adjusts it as needed.

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Sometimes brushing is not enough, especially when it comes to those hard-to-reach spots in your child's mouth. It is difficult for a toothbrush to reach between the small cracks and grooves on teeth. If left alone, those tiny areas can develop tooth decay. Sealants give your child's teeth extra protection against decay and help prevent cavities.

Dental sealants are a plastic resin that bonds and hardens in the deep grooves on the tooth's surface. When a tooth is sealed, the tiny grooves become smooth, and are less likely to harbor plaque. With sealants, brushing becomes easier and more effective against tooth decay.

Sealants are typically applied to children's teeth as a preventive measure after the permanent teeth have erupted. It is more common to seal "permanent" teeth rather than "baby" teeth, but every patient has unique needs, and the dentist will recommend sealants on a case-by-case basis.

Sealants last from three to five years, although it is fairly common to see adults with sealants still intact from childhood. A dental sealant only provides protection when it is fully intact so if your child's sealants come off, let the dentist know, and schedule an appointment for your child's teeth to be re-sealed.

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