Ask the Expert: How Safe are Fluoride, X-Rays and Other Dental Tools for Children’s Health?
Nitrous oxide, fluoride, and X-rays are commonly used but also misunderstood. How can parents know what’s best for their children?
Pediatric dental offices, like many medical facilities, have a range of tools designed to either assist the doctor in caring for teeth, prevent damage to teeth or ease discomfort associated with dental procedures. Some of these tools are shrouded in myth and misinformation making it difficult for parents to know what’s best for the long-term health of their kids. Alongside caring for children’s teeth and gums, a pediatric dentist will also take the time to answer parents’ questions and correct common misunderstandings about the tools and materials used in their offices. Dr. Wilma McPherson of Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry says, “It’s absolutely my job to make sure our parents are informed and comfortable with all of the materials and procedures we use at JCPD.” Parents’ questions at the dentist office often revolve around the use of fluoride, X-rays and nitrous oxide. “Answering parents’ questions and reassuring them about the need and efficacy of these materials or procedures invariably relaxes them and eases any concerns,” Dr. McPherson adds.
The Scoop on Fluoride
During the 1940s, cities throughout the United States began adding fluoride to public water. For some, this common process is controversial, but for many others, the additive is an unremarkable part of their daily lives. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral already present in bones and teeth. The regular eating and drinking we do can wear away at the enamel that makes up the outer layer of our teeth. Added fluoride—from water, treatments, toothpaste, etc.—can help remineralize the surface of our teeth, staving off the formation of cavities. Through misused scientific research publications, rumors have spread about fluoride’s link to lowered IQ and other negative neurologic effects. Like most medicines, fluoride intake should be kept to safe limits. The amounts included in public waters fall well within these regulated amounts. “We will apply fluoride directly to teeth in the office setting,” says Dr. McPherson, “but the amounts teeth get in toothpaste and through saliva from ingested sources are important in the fight against tooth decay.”
What Every Parent Should Know About X-Rays
Dental X-rays are images taken of the bones and soft tissue of the teeth and gums. X-ray radiation is sent in a burst through the mouth and images that are captured are the result of how easily the rays were able to go through the different kinds of material. Bones stop a lot of the X-rays, gums less so. If there are abnormal growths, cavities or extra teeth, the images will tell a trained dentist. This tool has been used in medicine for more than 100 years. In that time, many advancements have been made to protect the health of patients. Though the process does expose patients to some radiation, modern machines limit the amount of radiation exposure, roughly the same amount one would get in a day from the natural environment. Dental technicians walk out of the room or stand behind a protective shield to reduce exposure since they spend all day using the machines. In dentists’ offices, patients are covered by a lead apron and collar to reduce the exposure of the rest of their bodies to the radiation. The concern for the young and still developing bodies of children is valid and so dentists generally recommend dental X-rays only once or twice a year during check-ups. “Children’s teeth change rapidly compared to adult teeth,” says Dr. McPherson. “We use digital X-rays to keep track of tooth growth and alignment as well as checking for cavities, wisdom teeth and gum disease.” The use of a digital X-ray machine like the one used by Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry is becoming more common in dentists’ offices and reduces patient radiation exposure even more compared to traditional film development.
When to Use Nitrous Oxide
As much as pediatric dentists hope their offices are cavity-free, stickers-for-everyone zones, there are times when restorative treatments are necessary. Some patients get nervous with anticipation, tensing up and possibly making the work of the dentist more difficult. Nitrous oxide is a sedative used throughout the medical industry to relax patients. The colorless, sweet-smelling gas is mixed with oxygen and inhaled by the patient through a nose mask called a “nasal hood”. The effects are generally felt within a few minutes. Nitrous gas is commonly known as laughing gas because it gives a feeling of euphoria and allows patients to be fully awake and able to respond to directions while relaxed during dental treatment. Nitrous gas is widely used because it works quickly, has few side effects and wears off just as quickly. As with many medications, improper use can be dangerous. Side effects may include tingling and numbness. The professionals in your pediatric dentists’ office carefully control the oxygen/nitrous oxide mixture so patients breathe out the gas at the end of the procedure without any lingering effects.
Pediatric dentists’ offices are medical facilities with many tools and materials that require the expert hand of professional dentists, dental assistants and dental hygienists for safe administration. At Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry, we are committed to making sure our parents are confident about the treatment their children receive. Call our offices at 201.434.3000 to set up an appointment for your child or visit us at JCPDentistry.com and have your questions answered by our knowledgeable staff.
Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry is “Where Little Smiles Come to Shine!”