Fluoride in milk results in fewer cavities in teeth – University of Copenhagen

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18 December 2015

Fluoride in milk results in fewer cavities in teeth


Children can avoid cavities in their teeth, if they get milk containing preventive fluoride. This is the finding of new research conducted at University of Copenhagen. Decisive step towards global health, says the professor behind the study.

Brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste is a good way to avoid cavities, but in many countries, there is neither the time, money nor tradition for children to brush their teeth regularly. Researchers have therefore examined whether children’s dental health can be improved by other means, and it turns out that fluoride in milk has a marked effect.

“Our research will have a major impact on children’s health, especially in countries where the incidence of dental caries – cavities in the teeth – is high. In low-income countries, children with poor teeth frequently experience pain or discomfort, and typically, teeth with severe caries are extracted. Tooth disease with toothache reduces children’s quality of life. We have now found a simple, cheap and effective solution that can benefit these children. In the school environment, we can create better dental health in children by combining a healthy diet with milk containing prophylactic fluoride. While prevention of tooth disease first and foremost benefits children’s health, it is also important for children’s learning and society at large,” says Professor Poul Erik Petersen, School of Dentistry at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. He is also active in WHO’s oral health research.

New weapon in the global fight against dental caries
The study investigated a group of three-year-old children in Bulgaria, following them over a five-year period. One group received milk with fluoride, while the other group received milk without. The groups of children with fluoride added to their school milk had significantly fewer cavities than children in the control group. Bulgaria is one of the European countries having a relatively high and serious incidence of cavities in teeth, and the country’s health authorities have therefore specifically asked for initiatives that could make a difference.

“Prevention is the most important way to avoid cavities in teeth. Thanks to our research, we now have a strong scientific foundation for recommending to authorities in countries all over the world how to remove a major public health concern using fluoride. By adding fluoride to school milk, we prevent cavities in teeth, improving the health of all children – not just the children and parents who have the resources to brush their teeth or visit the dentist. In this way, we can reduce the social inequality in the incidence of tooth disease in children,” says Poul Erik Petersen.

In Scandinavia, children enjoy excellent dental health. The study’s findings are therefore particularly relevant for countries with a higher incidence of dental caries and which have not yet adopted effective prevention programmes. In Europe, this particularly applies to countries in Central and Eastern Europe - like Bulgaria - that find it difficult to meet WHO’s recommendations that at least 80 per cent of six-year-old children must be free of caries by 2020. For children aged 12 , the recommendation is a maximum of 1.5 teeth to be affected by the disease. Armed with the new research, these countries now have a practical tool with which to transform dental health in children, and thus also to improve their general health through a healthy diet.

The study has just been published in Community of Dental Health and can be read here.

Professor Poul Erik Petersen, School of Dentistry at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, email: poep@sund.ku.dk, mobile: +45 24 46 35 98