The government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is now recommending that pediatricians apply a painted-on fluoride treatment to baby teeth as soon as they emerge, as a cavity-prevention measure. More from Reuters:
"Only one in four preschool children is seeing a dentist, but most see a primary care clinician," Dr. Michael LeFevre told Reuters Health. "Primary care clinicians can play an important complementary role in helping dentists keep children's teeth healthy."
A family physician from the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, LeFevre chairs the USPSTF.
The panel declined to state how often doctors should apply fluoride varnish to infants' teeth, saying research is inconclusive.
Pediatric dentist Dr. Mary Hayes welcomed the help from pediatricians, family doctors and nurse practitioners.
"It's a good thing that dentistry and medicine are working hand in hand trying to attack decay in kids' mouths," she told Reuters Health. Hayes is an American Dental Association spokeswoman and was not involved with the new recommendations.
In addition to applying fluoride varnish to all baby teeth, the task force continues to urge doctors to prescribe oral fluoride supplements to infants who have not had fluoride added to their drinking water. Supplements come in daily doses of drops, tablets or lozenges.
In an effort to prevent tooth decay, fluoride was first added to the water supply in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945. Since then, communities throughout the U.S. have debated whether to add the naturally occurring mineral to public water systems.
About two-thirds of Americans currently drink water from fluoridated community systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The task force last updated its recommendations on prevention of tooth decay in preschool-aged children 10 years ago.
Earlier this year, the American Dental Association recommended parents use a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste on children before they turn 2, though fluoride remains controversial in some circles amid allegations–based, medical officials say, on questionable science–that fluoride is a carcinogen and can lower children's IQs. In 2012, New Jersey was embroiled in the controversy when it considered legislation that would require each town in the state to fluoridate its water.
Image: Baby teeth, via Shutterstock