On Fluoride and Caring for Your Child's Teeth in Japan
Many of us have heard that fluoride is not added to Japan’s tap water but aren’t quite sure what this means for the health of our children’s mouths. We get a lot of questions about this at our clinic. I hope this sheds a little light on the topic.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs in nature, and can sometimes be found in water. From a dental care perspective, its main job is to protect teeth—it strengthens the surface of the tooth, protecting enamel from decay. Essentially, fluoride helps prevent cavities.
Depending on where you live, fluoride may or may not be found naturally in the water. In the U.S., where it does not occur naturally in the water supply, it is added artificially. Japan, along with many other countries, has chosen not to add fluoride artificially because the long-term side effects of ingesting artificial fluoride over an extended period of time are unknown.
The debate around fluoride in the water supply is a lively one and both sides make important points. What’s not in question, though, is the fact that the mineral fluoride plays a major role in protecting teeth and preventing cavities.
A lot of foreign moms and dads in Japan are not sure what to do about fluoride protection here since the mineral does not occur naturally in the water. We get this question a lot from our patients.
One part of the answer is fluoride treatments. While many brands of toothpaste have fluoride in them, fluoride from toothpaste alone will not be enough to get a child the needed amount to protect enamel and help prevent cavities. This is where fluoride treatments come in.
Dentists in Japan offer fluoride treatments in the form of a gel applied topically. It’s sort of like toothpaste but packs a much bigger punch. Treatments are recommended every 3-6 months, depending on the condition of a child’s teeth. They can be started as soon as a child has enough teeth to worry about—although most children start coming from around age 3.
Most pediatric dentists in Japan offer this service. It is not covered by National Health Insurance, but should only cost around 3000 yen per treatment. In Japanese, it is called fusso tofu.
Please remember, fluoride treatments are only one part of the complete dental care package for your child; a big part perhaps, but they are not a cure-all. Fluoride treatments will not solve everything, but they will help you take preventative steps for your child's dental health.
The number-one way to prevent tooth decay is simply to not let your little one indulge in too many sweet treats in the first place. Tooth decay is caused by sugar-eating bacteria in the mouth. Limiting sugary food is the best way to fight cavities. And as your trusted back-ups, regular brushing and occasional fluoride treatments.
One last thing: When it comes to your child's dental health, please don't feel bad or embarrassed if there is a problem that needs to be addressed. It happens and you are certainly not alone! Your child's dental health should be a team effort between your family and your dentist. We are here to help in whatever way we can.
Our services include fluoride treatments as well as general and pediatric dentistry at Mihara Dental Clinic.