Fluoride is a natural mineral that has been proven to strengthen teeth and prevent the incidence of tooth decay. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride treatment for children as soon as teeth emerge. This simple preventive measure of applying fluoride varnish to a child’s first teeth can strengthen teeth at risk for decay and create a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay.
Applying a fluoride varnish protects a child’s primary (first) teeth from decay. Fluoride is applied twice a year from ages one to six or seven when the child gets permanent teeth. Fluoride varnish works by repairing gaps in the tooth enamel, protecting teeth from plaque-forming bacteria that like to colonize in small pits and gaps.
Fluoride is easily applied to teeth. It dries almost immediately upon contact with clean dry teeth and will not be removed by saliva. The procedure is quick, painless, and often included in dental insurance coverage, but you will want to check with your provider to be certain.
Sealants are generally used to help prevent tooth decay on the biting surfaces of back teeth (molars). The natural grooves of these teeth can trap food that can resist casual brushing and rinsing. If left in place, the trapped food allows bacteria to multiply, eventually causing tooth decay and requiring costly attention.
Sealants are painted directly onto the tooth where they seal the natural grooves to help prevent tooth decay. While sealants are durable, they are not permanent. They can last up to 5 years of normal wear before needing replacement.
Sealants offer a cost-effective, preventative step to reduce the chances of tooth decay on the chewing surfaces of molars. However, they do not replace the need for regular brushing and flossing.