By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Kelsey Sorvick, RN, Penfield Children’s Center
A common dental debate between parents is whether or not fluoride is safe for children. And, if it is safe, how much should a child get? We’re breaking down the most common questions about fluoride and how to keep your little one’s teeth healthy.
First, what is fluoride?
Fluoride comes from fluorine, an element in the Earth’s crust. It is commonly found in natural sources of water, such as oceans and lakes. As a low-cost public health measure, communities also add fluoride to drinking water to help prevent cavities. According to the American Dental Association, adding fluoride to drinking water reduces dental decay by 25% and it “is ranked as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.” But, is it safe? Yes! Water fluoridation is safe for both adults and children.
Why does fluoride protect teeth?
Before a child’s teeth come in, fluoride from food and drinks your child has ingested strengthens the surface of the teeth (the enamel) and makes it more difficult for tooth decay to take place. Once the teeth have broken through the child’s gums, fluoride helps strengthen weak spots on the surface of the child’s teeth and can even reverse a baby’s tooth decay.
Is my child getting enough fluoride?
Most children under age 6 months do not need to take fluoride tablets or vitamins. If you live in a community that does not add fluoride to drinking water or if your child drinks only bottled water, your child’s dentist might recommend a fluoride supplement. You can also help boost your child’s fluoride intake by brushing his teeth with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Just make sure to closely monitor your young child while brushing teeth. A pea-sized amount of toothpaste is all he needs. Also, children tend to swallow toothpaste; teach your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. If you are concerned about your child’s fluoride intake, make sure to check with his dentist.
Is it possible for my child to get too much fluoride?
Yes. When a child ingests too much fluoride, his teeth can become discolored. This is called enamel fluorosis and is not usually serious. However, in certain areas of the country, natural fluoride levels are higher than normal and the CDC recommends that children drink bottled water to prevent more severe enamel fluorosis.
When discussing the use of fluoride with your child’s dentist, make sure to provide him/her with information about what type of drinking water your family uses (city water, well water, etc.) and if your family uses a fluoride toothpaste and/or mouth wash.
Do you drink tap water at home? If not, has your child’s dentist recommended fluoride supplements for your child?