Kids and Flouride: Getting Too Much or Not Enough?

Girl brushing rinsing teethDespite the controversy surrounding this f-word, fluoride in drinking water has proven safe and effective at preventing tooth decay in study after study. In fact, most sources of water naturally contain this mineral known as “nature’s cavity-fighter.” Water and beverages made with water provide the majority of the fluoride we receive. The increased fluoride in the body helps to produce strong teeth—teeth that are still waiting under the gums of young children. The remainder of our fluoride comes from applications such as toothpaste and mouthwash. These expose the teeth directly to fluoride to strengthen the enamel.

But how do you know if your kids are getting enough? Can they have too much? As a general rule, if your child is brushing with fluoride toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water, then they are probably getting enough. Children exposed to excessive amounts of fluoride may be at risk for a harmless discoloration of enamel known as dental fluorosis. So how can a parent be sure?

  1. Know your water. About three-fourths of people in the US have access to fluoridated drinking water, and you can get specifics about the concentration in your drinking water from the CDC here. If your child is drinking bottled water, they may be missing out on the benefits of fluoride. If your child is exclusively drinking infant formula mixed with tap water, they may be at higher risk for fluorosis. If your water comes from a private well, it likely has some naturally occurring fluoride, and the EPA recommends having it tested every three years to find out just how much.
  1. Supervise brushing. The ADA recommends brushing your child’s teeth until age 6, or until you are confident with their ability to do a good job. One reason for this is that smaller kids may swallow toothpaste, which usually contains fluoride. A pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is ideal, only after the child is able to spit it out, usually around age 2.
  1. Use other fluoride products judiciously. If your water is fluoridated and your child brushes with fluoride toothpaste, your child should be getting enough to prevent cavities. The ADA recommends the use of other fluoride products—tablets, drops, rinses, gels or other supplements—only in cases where the risk of tooth decay is very high. Consult your child’s dentist before adding these to your child’s routine.

Caring for the little ones in your life is hard work, and the last thing a parent needs is another worry to add to the list. With these three steps, you can be confident that your child is getting the right amount of fluoride for strong, healthy teeth.

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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