The Grapevine

Dental Cavities Prevention Better With Toothpastes Containing Fluoride, Report Finds

If the toothpaste used by you (or particularly, your child) does not contain the cavity-blocking ingredient fluoride, you may want to make a switch. New findings revealed no significant benefit against tooth decay when brushing and flossing in the absence of fluoride.

The study titled "Personal oral hygiene and dental caries: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials" was recently published in the dental journal Gerodontology.

"It's really important to debunk this idea that brushing your teeth stops decay. You need to have the fluoride," said Damien Walmsley, a scientific adviser to the British Dental Association and a dentistry professor at the University of Birmingham in England.

Fluoride, which comes from the natural element fluorine, is considered to have a protective effect on teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), it can help rebuild or remineralize weakened enamel of our teeth and also reverse early signs of tooth decay or cavities.

Even while being aware of these benefits, some dentists have believed that the mere act of brushing (i.e. to clean the teeth with bristles and remove plaque) can also help prevent cavities to a certain degree. The ADA added that all toothpaste can help remove plaque, which forms over the teeth and gums on a daily basis.

For the new study, researchers from the University of Washington conducted an analysis of three separate studies involving a near total of 800 children from the United States and Great Britain. 

The children, who were aged 10 to 13 years, flossed and brushed for up to a period of three years. But according to the findings, simply brushing or flossing teeth without fluoride did not show any significant reduction in dental cavities.

It was noted that misleading marketing has led many consumers to believe that fluoride-free toothpastes also provide the benefit of fighting against cavities. 

"Despite a large body of scientific evidence, there are growing numbers of consumers who believe that all toothpastes are the same and that as long as you clean your teeth effectively with a toothbrush or other device which cleans in-between the teeth, you can prevent decay," said J. Leslie Winston, a dentist and oral care director for Crest toothpaste maker Procter & Gamble.

However, it should be considered that the study involved children of a specific age range given the lack of abundant high-quality research. One possibility, stated by ADA spokesperson Matthew Messina, is how the form of tooth decay which affects older adults may be avoided even by mechanical brushing.  

As for younger children, dentists recommend that parents monitor the amount of toothpaste used, making sure it is between the size of a grain of rice and the size of a pea. The small amount can help reduce the risk of dental fluorosis, which occurs when younger children consume too much fluoride.