• Dental caries;
  • dental public health

The mouth is in flux from the time the primary teeth begin to erupt, in the first year of life, through to the end of the ‘mixed dentition’ (i.e. the concurrent eruption of the permanent teeth and exfoliation of the primary teeth), at around 12 years of age. Primary teeth facilitate the development of the facial muscles and speech. They act as ‘guides’ for erupting permanent teeth. If lost prematurely, subsequent misalignment of permanent teeth can make them difficult to clean and possibly more caries-prone. During the mixed dentition phase, teeth are at relatively high risk of caries. Erupting teeth are difficult to clean and cleaning may be avoided because of tender gums and behavioural factors in children. Permanent enamel (and possibly primary enamel) undergoes post-eruptive maturation, accumulating fluoride, becoming harder, less porous and less caries-prone. Overall, primary teeth are more vulnerable to caries than permanent teeth. Widespread use of fluoride toothpaste has effected marked reductions in caries. Some evidence exists that fluoride delivered from toothpastes may be somewhat more effective in reducing caries in primary than in permanent teeth. However, caries remains a public health concern globally. New fluoride toothpaste formulations, optimised using in vivo fluoride delivery and efficacy studies, may improve the caries resistance of mineral deposited during post-eruptive maturation. Behaviour should not be ignored; new formulations will be more effective if used according to professionally endorsed recommendations based on sound science. Establishing good oral hygiene behaviour early in life can lead to lasting anti-caries benefits.