Category: Dental Care

Is Fluoride Safe for Children?

Save a Smile Dental Program helps children every week with severe decay. This story is told by a dentist about a 2 1/2 year old girl. We help children in the same unfortunate situation.

Is Fluoride Safe for Children?

By Dr. Brittany Seymour Assistant Professor, Harvard School of Dental Medicine

It was my first year out of dental school, and I was treating a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who grew up in a community without fluoride in the water. Her four front teeth were so badly decayed, painful and infected that I had to remove them completely. For a tiny toddler, the lights and sounds of the dental chair can feel terrifying. Although she was scared and crying, she held perfectly still while I treated her. I was so proud of her. After the procedure, we were standing in the hallway with her mom and I was explaining how to care for her at home while she was healing from her dental infection. The little girl was calm now, positioned on her mother’s hip and watched me as I talked. Suddenly, in the middle of my sentence, this tiny girl reached out, threw her arms around my neck and hugged me.  Her mother and I both gasped in surprise. The little girl didn’t say anything at all, just hugged me for the longest time. I knew instantly why, and I hugged her right back.  She was finally free from her pain. That was 11 years ago. I will never forget her or the pain my tiniest patient had been living with for so long because of cavities. Now, as the mom of a young daughter myself, this story has taken on new personal meaning. Our children deserve the healthiest start to their lives, and a healthy smile is one of the best gifts we can give them. Treating cavities is important, but preventing cavities is best. That’s where fluoride comes in. Millions of children in the United States and around the world have been spared thanks to fluoride in tap water, toothpaste and routine dental checkups starting no later than a child’s first birthday.

Why is fluoride important?

Did you know dental cavities are the most common disease in children and adults worldwide? Fluoride is one of the best and safest ways we can prevent cavities for children and adults alike.  Here’s how fluoride works. Your mouth contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. This produces acid that can wear away the hard, outer shell of your tooth (enamel). This can lead to cavities. Fluoride protects teeth by making your teeth stronger and more resistant to acid. It not only reduces the risk of cavities, it can even help reverse early signs of decay. Due to its success in preventing cavities, fluoride in water was named a top public health achievement in the 20th century.

Do I need to be worried about my child drinking water with fluoride?

No. Fluoridated water is easy, inexpensive and one of the best beverage choices for kids.  Sweetened drinks like fruit juice (even those labeled 100% natural), soda and sports drinks contribute to tooth decay. Fluoridated water protects teeth. Sugary drinks also contribute to weight gain, where water with fluoride is calorie-free.  Something else to keep in mind is that fluoride is natural. It is an element found at some level in all natural water sources. If you’re drinking tap water in communities that add fluoride to the public water supply, you’re getting just the right amount of fluoride to help your teeth thanks to strict standards set by the EPA. Not all bottled water has fluoride, so check the label or contact the bottler to be sure you’re getting the fluoride your teeth need. While most water filters used at home (in a pitcher or attached to the tap) do not remove fluoride, home water treatment systems such as reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation do remove significant amounts of fluoride from the water. Check with the manufacturer to learn if what you are using at home removes fluoride.


 When should I start brushing my child’s teeth, and how much fluoride toothpaste should I use?

To keep your baby’s mouth as clean as possible, use a soft cloth to wipe his or her gums clean from the start. Once those first teeth start coming through the gums, begin brushing them with a soft, child-sized toothbrush (my daughter loved her Elmo toothbrush) and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice and minimizes the amount your child swallows. This will help spread the fluoride onto teeth without your child swallowing too much, since he or she can’t really spit yet. Once your child becomes better at spitting (about age 3), use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and have your child spit after brushing. Keep helping your child brush until at least age five or six. It may be a team effort until then (it is at our home!), but keep doing the final brushing just to be sure all the “sugar bugs” are gone. Stickers help!

Eating for Good Oral Health

Eating for Good Oral Health

Balanced eating is essential for overall healthy living, but how does it impact your oral health? Choosing foods that are good for your teeth can help you avoid tooth decay, painful cavities, and dental visits. Making sure that you eat foods that are rich in calcium and lean protein promotes the health of your teeth. Avoid foods that are high in sugar and/or acid to prevent decay from happening in the first place.

Foods that are good for your teeth:

  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt provide calcium to your teeth while exposing them to little sugar. Dairy is also a great source of protein.
  • Lean proteins such as poultry, lean beef, fish, and legumes help strengthen your teeth and help build enamel.
  • Fruits and vegetables to help clean your teeth and strengthen your teeth against decay.
  • Fluoridated water helps teeth resist decay and acid attacks from the foods we eat.

Foods to avoid:

  • Citrus Fruits are acidic and so they erode enamel, placing your teeth at risk for decay
  • Coffee is acidic and wears on the enamel of teeth. Adding sugar to your coffee to make it tastier also promotes tooth decay. Coffee and tea can also lead to tooth staining.
  • Sticky foods such as fruit snacks and dried fruits
  • Potato Chips and other starchy foods
  • Soda is acidic and packed with sugar, avoid to prevent your enamel from decaying.
  • Alcohol
  • Sports Drinks
  • Other foods that are packed with sugar (Cakes, desserts, hard candies, etc.)

As always, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. See your dentist regularly to prevent problems from happening. If you eat food that is high in sugar or acid, brush your teeth thoroughly.  Consistency is key. Eating foods every day that are good for your teeth ensure that they stay healthy for years to come!

Dental Anxiety- It’s Real

Dental Anxiety- It’s Real

Have you ever skipped a dental appointment because you were nervous? You are not alone! Many people share this anxiety and fear. Dental visits are not always pleasant, but they are necessary for your overall health. Here are some quick tips and tricks on how to deal with the nerves.

New Products:

Maybe you had an appointment many years ago that felt a little uncomfortable. Good news! There are a host of new products these days that are used to help with the pain and discomfort. Topical anesthetic gels and dental patches are used to keep patients comfortable during injections and deep cleanings. “Laughing gas” or nitrous oxide is also used to ease the discomfort and calm the nerves a bit. Ask your dentist about the use of some of these products. Some are even covered by insurance.

Get the Facts:

Before your appointment, ask your dentist or the office staff what to expect. Let them know what your fears and concerns are. They can walk you through what he/she will be doing so you know what to expect. Tell your dentist about the difficulties you have had in the past so that they can best accommodate those fears and make sure they won’t happen again. Addressing your concerns and knowing what to expect can dramatically reduce those anxieties!


Ask your provider what resources they offer to make you more comfortable. Many dentists have televisions where you can watch your favorite shows! Music is also a great option. Turn on your favorite tunes and drown out all the strange sounds that the dental office can bring. Distracting yourself can be a great way to get your mind off of all your worries and fears.

Create a Sign:

Before your dentist starts a procedure establish a sign that shows that you are experiencing discomfort. For example, raising your hand or giving “thumbs up” can be a great way to get your message across so that your dentist knows exactly how you are feeling. Your dentist really does care about your comfort!

Everyone’s Teeth Are Important!

In the hustle and bustle of daily life, many people forget the importance of taking care of their pet’s teeth. Just like our oral hygiene reflects our overall health, the same is true for our pets. If neglected, poor oral hygiene can lead to many health problems later in life for our furry friends.

Just like with humans, the best way to ensure proper oral hygiene is by brushing your pet’s teeth daily. This prevents disease by removing plaque buildup on their teeth. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) recommends pet-specific toothpastes. These come in flavors that dogs accept, such as poultry and seafood. Avoid human toothpastes as they often contain abrasives and high-foaming detergents that should not be swallowed or inhaled by dogs. There are even toothbrushes designed for dogs.

Like with children, pets may not always be cooperative. The younger you start to brush your dogs teeth the better, because they will not be afraid of the tooth brush. AVDC states that the key to success is to be patient and gradual in your approach, brushing mainly the outsides of the “cheek teeth” located under the upper lip. This may mean by starting to let your pet smell the toothpaste or lick it first, and then slowing starting to get front teeth and working your way in.

Another way to help keep our pet’s teeth health is by getting them rawhide products and chew treats. They can be helpful if chewed daily, and some rawhide chews and biscuits contain an anti-tartar ingredient. If you’re ever questioning the safety or effectiveness of a product consult your veterinarian.

Besides taking care of their teeth at home the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA) states that your pet’s teeth and gums should be checked at least once a year by a veterinarian to check for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

According to the AVDC, signs of oral and dental diseases in dogs and cats include:

  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Discolored teeth
  • Drooling or dropping food from the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Loss of appetite, or weight loss.


Getting Your Child to Love Brushing

One of the many struggles that face parents today is getting their child to brush their teeth. Tantrums happen, people. There are ways to get little ones to embrace this healthy habit.

Toddlers don’t understand why they need to brush their teeth, no matter what stories and tricks we have up our sleeves. Having someone brush your teeth is uncomfortable, no wonder they run from us when we bring the toothbrush out! Holding them down in order to brush their teeth often just makes it worse. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on brushing. Start small, and keep with it even if it doesn’t work right away.

Ways to get your child to love brushing

1.      Make it routine. Try it BEFORE the bath so they’re not so tired. Or even during the bath. More awkward for you, but they will be more playful and relaxed. Right after dinner works, as well.

2.      Consider skipping toothpaste. Experiment to see if that makes her more open to brushing. Try different flavors. Maybe she will love one and that will give her incentive.

3.      “Play” toothbrushing

  •   Let her brush the stuffed animals’ or dolls’ “teeth”
  •   Brush all over her body (arms, ears) and say, “Is this where I should brush?”
  •   Let her brush your teeth to reverse the power dynamic.

4.      Use sound to start good habits. Encourage her to say “Teeee” (for the front teeth) and “Ahhhh” (for the back teeth) and roar like an animal so her mouth is open wide while brushing.

5.      Sing! “This is the way we brush our teeth, after we eat our dinner” or “The toothbrush in the mouth goes round and round” can be very helpful because singing increases the fun level and reinforces the routine. Maybe most important, it assures the child that the brushing is time limited, because they can count on it ending when the song ends…

6.      Play “copycat”. Since most kids this age enjoy learning by copying us but want to “do it themselves,” brush together looking into the mirror. Have her copy you in the mirror as you brush.

7.      Check their work! Most children will not do a thorough job and parents need to “help” them a bit.

8.      Take turns. Toddlers are beginning to understand “My turn!” so you can say “Baby’s turn to brush Mommy!” and then “Now it’s dolly’s turn!” and “Now it’s Mommy’s turn to brush Baby!”
Be consistent. Be patient. Don’t forget how important this is to their overall health!

How Drugs Affect Your Oral Health

Drugs, prescribed and illegal, can affect your oral health differently, often causing tooth damage. We often first think of the very harmful illegal drugs, but there is also major oral health risks related to prescribed medications as well. Prescribed drugs such as antihistamines, aspirin and asthma medications are all examples of common medications that affect your oral health. Antihistamines are responsible for decreasing saliva produced, causing dry mouth. Saliva is important because it helps to protect your mouth from bacteria overgrowth. It is important to drink a lot of water and you can use special mouth washes like Biotene or ACT Dry Mouth to help treat these side effects while you are on antihistamine medications. Check with your regular physician and dentist for what products they recommend.

Aspirin and asthma medications are both very acidic in nature. It is important for you to take these medications exactly as directed by your doctor. Aspirin should be swallowed hole with water. It is also important to rinse your mouth or brush your teeth right after taking an inhaled asthma medication.

Illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin typically cause severe sugar cravings. The high from meth and heroin can also cause the user to pass out for long periods of time. When passed out, people often breathe through their mouth, causing it to dry out easier, which can have harmful effects on oral health. These drugs are also highly acidic, leading to major decay of the enamel on the teeth. Lastly, users can become paranoid from these drugs causing them to clench and grind their teeth. These are examples of how illegal drugs have lasting effects on oral health. It is critically important for parents to talk to their children, educating them about illegal drugs how to prevent their use and help promote their overall oral health.

The Positive Side of Fluoride.


In 1945 Grand Rapids, Michigan became the world’s first city to adjust the naturally occurring fluoride levels in drinking water to an optimal level for the prevention of tooth decay. After Michigan adjusted their fluoride levels, others cities followed their lead. The oral health of millions of Americans improved greatly.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that Community Water Fluoridation is one of the 10 greatest health achievements of the 20th century!

The Wisconsin Dental Association and its more than 3,000 member dentist and dental hygienists are committed to promoting quality oral health care and support community water fluoridation. In Wisconsin, the optimal level for fluoridated systems is 0.7 part per million (ppm) of fluoride.

How does fluoride prevent tooth decay?

  • When children are young, fluoride that is swallowed enters the bloodstream and combines with calcium and phosphate as the tooth is formed under the gum tissue.
  • This makes teeth are more resistant to decay throughout childhood and the teenage years.
  • Food and beverages create high acid levels in your mouth.
  • The saliva neutralizes the acid produced by bacteria on teeth and the fluoride helps heals the teeth and protect them from further decay.

Doesn’t toothpaste have fluoride? Is it still needed in the water?

Yes, many years after fluoride toothpaste became widely used experts examined this same question. They determined that the most effective source of fluoride is still water fluoridation.

Why do people still get cavities if fluoride is supposed to prevent tooth decay?

Fluoride alone cannot guarantee someone will not get tooth decay. Dietary habits, along with brushing, flossing and routine dental care are very important in reducing the occurrence of decay.

Is there fluoride in bottled water?

Bottled water is consumed for various reasons such as taste preference or convenience. However, bottled water may not have a sufficient amount of fluoride. Some bottles may have the naturally occurring fluoride while others may not.  Bottled water that is labeled as de-ionized, purified, demineralized, or distilled has been treated so that little or no amounts of fluoride are present, unless noted.


The Scoop on Ice Cream

The Scoop on National Ice Cream Month and Day

President Ronald Reagan is known for his love of Jelly Bellies, but his sweet tooth extended into the creamy goodness of ice cream. In 1984, President Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream month and the third Sunday in July would be National Ice Cream Day. This year the third Sunday is July 19th.  This designated month and day is a great reason to indulge in the summertime favorite … you can’t go wrong with ice cream!

However, you can go wrong if you don’t brush your teeth after enjoying this American classic. Whether you are scooping out vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry into a dish or a cone you need to know the scoop on the impact ice cream and other sweet treats have on your teeth.

The Scoop on Tooth Decay

It is commonly said that sugar harms your teeth.  The sugar itself will not hurt your teeth but plays a large role in tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by harmful bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria feed on sugar, so eating too much sugar can feed bad bacteria, which will guzzle down the sugar and give off an acid byproduct that can strip teeth of enamel. These harmful bacteria can adhere to teeth forming plaque (a sticky substance) and tartar (hardened plaque). The bacteria continue to feed on the sugar and eventually may result in cavities.

 With a Scoop of Moderation

In an ideal world we could do away with sweets altogether, but why would we want to get rid of something that tastes so good? The good news is that there are simple solutions to avoiding the damage done by bacteria when enjoying your favorite sweet treat.

  1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day for 2 minutes
  2. Floss daily
  3. Enjoy in moderation  
  4. Alternatives  (Banana “Ice Cream”)

A Scoop of Banana “Ice Cream”


This recipe provides the cool, creamy sweetness of ice cream – without any added sugar.


2-3 ripe bananas (yep, that’s it!)


Peel bananas and cut them into small slices. Freeze them for 1-2 hours, then place them in a blender and blend until creamy. Scoop and serve! Once you’ve tried the “original” flavor, experiment with healthy add-ins like peanut butter, strawberries or dark chocolate. (Consider if your add-ins contains sugar, and remember to brush after eating.)

Building a Brusher

Building a Brusher

As Parents, we want our children to learn independence at an early age.  However, brushing their teeth is not a responsibility young children should do independently.  Parents need to be actively involved in a child’s oral hygiene at least until they are old enough to tie their own shoelaces.  Young children don’t have the hand coordination or attention span to thoroughly brush all the areas of the mouth.  Parents often tell us that their child likes to brush on their own or that they do a good job.  In reality, children tend to focus on the front area of the mouth and tend to avoid brushing their back teeth.  It is most successful to establish a routine where the parent brushes all the teeth and areas of the mouth first.  Then, if the child still wants to do it on their own, let them! Encourage them to use the toothbrush in different areas.

When the child reaches an age and maturity level where they can physically brush their own teeth, a parent still should be present.  Children often don’t want to brush for the full two minute time period that is recommended.  Make it fun!  Give the child a timer or look for an app on your smartphone that they can brush along with.  When children are engaged in their oral health at a young age it helps establish healthy oral hygiene habits for a lifetime.

There is a right way to brush and floss. Every day:

•          Gently brush teeth on all sides with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste.

•          Use small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes.

•          Take the time to brush carefully and gently along the gum line.

•          Lightly brush the tongue to help keep your mouth clean.

“What type of toothpaste should I use for my toddler?” is a common question.  The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises limiting the amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush. The AAPD recommends a “smear” of toothpaste for children younger than 2 years of age and a “pea-sized” amount for children ages 2-5.  The toothpaste you choose should contain fluoride even if they are younger than 2 years of age.

Flossing is important for children teeth!  Even with supervised brushing the toothbrush is still not able to reach between the teeth.  Cavity causing plaque collects between the teeth and the only way to remove this sticky plaque is with floss.  Cavities tend to begin to form between the teeth because without regular flossing bacteria are left undisturbed and begin to attack the enamel surface of the tooth.  Individual flossers are great for children as an adult can hold onto the handle and still access all of the teeth.  Flossing should be done in an up and down motion, not back and forth.  It is common to see gum tissue bleed after flossing, especially if it has not been part of the regular oral hygiene routine.  Bleeding is a sign of gum irritation and infection.  The more often that an individual flosses the healthier the gum tissue will become, because the bacteria count between the teeth is being reduced.  The bleeding will decrease.

Be a good role model! Take good care of yourself, as well!

Saving Face

Saving Face

Imagine if you suddenly lost one or two of your front teeth. Smiling, talking, eating—everything would suddenly be affected.

Mouthguards help cushion a blow to the face, minimizing the risk of broken teeth and injuries to your lips, tongue, face or jaw. They typically cover the upper teeth and are a great way to protect the soft tissues of your tongue, lips and cheek lining. Knowing how to prevent injuries like these is especially important if you participate in organized sports or other recreational activities.

A mouthguard is an essential piece of gear that should be part of your standard equipment from an early age. Studies show that athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer harm to the teeth if they’re not wearing a mouthguard. While contact sports, such as football and hockey, are higher-risk sports for the mouth, you can experience a dental injury in non-contact activities too, such as gymnastics, skating and baseball.

There are three types of mouthguards: 

  • Custom-fitted. These are made by your dentist for you personally. They are more expensive than the other versions, but because they are customized, usually offer the best fit.
  • Stock. These are inexpensive and come pre-formed, ready to wear. Unfortunately, they often don’t fit very well. They can be bulky and can make breathing and talking difficult.
  • Boil and bite. These mouth protectors can be bought at many sporting goods stores and drugstores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. They are first softened in water (boiled), then inserted and allowed to adapt to the shape of your mouth.

The best mouthguard is one that has been custom made for your mouth by your dentist. However, if you can’t afford a custom-fitted mouthguard, you should still wear a stock mouthguard or a boil-and-bite mouthguard from the drugstore. If you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw, your dentist may suggest a mouth protector for these teeth as well.

A properly fitted mouthguard may be especially important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. A blow to the face could damage the brackets or other fixed orthodontic appliances. A mouthguard also provides a barrier between the braces and your cheek or lips, limiting the risk of soft tissue injuries. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about selecting a mouthguard that will provide the best protection. If you have a retainer or other removable appliance, do not wear it during any contact sports.