I saw a good friend the other day as she was en route to their dentist. Not for herself, mind you, but for their daughter, who was getting two more cavities filled for a grand total of six, one of which was a root canal.

Her daughter is seven years old.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a lot of cavities in young children, including our own. It seems like everyone we know has kids that are experiencing dental caries, and apparently it’s happening everywhere.

Last year, in what was one of the most comprehensive studies in the past twenty-five years, the CDC determined that, after years of decline, tooth decay had actually risen in children between the ages of two and five.

Why exactly this is happening, nobody can say for sure. Of course, there are no shortages of theories, and the culprits range from the overabundance of sugary snacks to the lack of fluoride in our diets.

The experts believe that the deficiency of fluoride stems in part from the increase in popularity of bottled water, which, since it comes from a spring, usually contains no fluoride. As people forsake municipal water (tap water), which is often fluoridated, they are consequently receiving inadequate amounts of fluoride, which in turn leads to an increase in tooth decay.

Or so they say.

In order to combat this rise in dental caries, the experts are telling us to cut down on sweets, brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste, (both perfectly sensible suggestions) and consume more fluoride. If not in the water, then by way of supplements.

While I agree that common sense food choices and proper oral hygiene are central to good dental health, I have to confess to having issues with the whole supplement thing, and from what I can gather, I’m not alone.

There are two sides to the argument over fluoride as a preventative measure against cavities, and both camps make compelling arguments in their respective favor. In the end, however, it’s not a black-and-white issue, and there is evidence that supports both the pros and the cons.

Those in support of fluoride have history on their side. If you were born around the late 1960’s and lived near a metropolitan area you probably consumed your fair share of the stuff as it became incorporated into city water supplies.

Today, the list of supporters includes the CDC, which advocates the inclusion of fluoride in any dental regimen as a safe and effective deterrent to cavities. (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5014a1.htm)

Those who are against fluoride, meanwhile, make some interesting points, as well. They implicate it in a whole host of problems that range from lowering IQs, to weakening bones, and even cancer. Though they back their claims with evidence, they tend rely heavily on sensationalism as well as fear, thus placing themselves, in my eyes, somewhat on the fringe.

So for the general cavity-suffering public like you and I, who do you believe? The naysayers, who can sometimes be mistaken as conspiracy theorists? Or the supporters, which includes the government, which, as we’ve seen in the current administration, would surely never lie to us or lead us astray. Right?

My take on it goes something like this: fluoride is a poison. That fact both sides can agree on, and in high enough doses it is without question toxic. It says so right on that tube of toothpaste that you’re holding - “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

There’s a reason your kid’s dentist tells you to use only a smear, and he isn’t talking about the cream cheese on your bagel. This would also explain why kids under a certain age are not supposed to used fluoride toothpaste, because they’ll swallow it, and they’re not supposed to. (I know you all know this, I just had to say that.)

Which begs the question, do we really want to feed it to our children? Even though the dosage has probably been empirically determined to be safe, what exactly constitutes a safe level? And what happens when that number changes, as all guidelines do?

Besides, most of the evidence in support of fluoride pertains to that which is in either toothpaste or the water supply. To the best of my knowledge, they do not apply to supplements.

With this in mind, I think back to Sonja Stewart’s post about mercury in fluorescent bulbs (http://parentingsquad.com/lights-out-why-im-no-longer-energy-efficient). While it would be ridiculous to compare the hazards of fluoride to mercury, my point is that with any poison, less is better, none is best.

So for now, we’ll hold off on the supplements, but we’ll stick with the fluoride toothpaste, brushing and flossing regularly while keeping our fingers crossed.

As for the excessive consumption of sweet, sugary snacks, I’m not sure if we are going to solve that dilemma, especially since mom and dad are the driving force behind it.