Fluoride: An Essential Component for Your Child’s Dental Health
You’ve probably seen it listed as an ingredient on toothpaste, and you may have even heard some fear-mongering arguments as to its safety — but how much do you really know about fluoride? Like calcium and magnesium, this naturally occurring mineral is essential for healthy teeth.
There’s a lot of misinformation circulating around fluoride, but experts, including the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease control, all agree that in the correct amounts, fluoride is not only safe but incredibly important for your child’s dental health.
What Is Fluoride?
It’s important to note that fluoride is not a drug or medication. Rather, it is a mineral that is naturally found in rocks, volcanic emissions, water, and many foods. Like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, it is an essential component of your teeth and bones.
As the dental health benefits of fluoride became apparent in the 1940s, many municipalities began adding fluoride to their water supplies. Now, most tap water in the United States is supplemented with fluoride. This is akin to iodine being added to salt.
How Does Fluoride Keep Your Child’s Teeth Healthy?
Fluoride is important for children and adults at any age, but it’s most important for children under the age of 16. At this time, your child’s primary and permanent teeth are erupting. As they erupt, exposure to fluoride helps harden their enamel, making them more resistant to cavities and decay. Children who receive enough fluoride when they are young will have a lower risk of tooth decay and tooth loss throughout the rest of their lives.
What Effects Has Fluoride Had on the Population’s Dental Health?
Adding fluoride to the drinking water has greatly reduced the occurrence of tooth decay in the United States. In one study, patients in counties where water was not fluoridated needed 33.4% more fillings, extractions, and root canals than patients in nearby counties where fluoride was added to the water.
It’s estimated that every $1 spent on fluoridating the water supply saves residents $38 in dental treatment costs. You, too, can save on dental costs by ensuring your child gets enough fluoride.
How Do You Make Sure Your Child Is Getting Enough Fluoride?
Most children will get enough fluoride if they are given fluoridated tap water to drink. If you give your child bottled water instead, make sure that the brand you purchase contains supplemental fluoride; some do not. If you feed your infant or toddler baby formula, prepare it with tap water rather than with distilled or non-fluoridated bottled water.
If you have a home water filtration system, it may remove some or all of the fluoride from your tap water. Charcoal and carbon filters and water softeners do not typically remove fluoride, but reverse osmosis and steam distillation systems do. If you have a filtration system that you suspect removes fluoride from your water, your dentist may recommend supplemental fluoride treatments for your child. These come in the following forms.
Fluoride Mouth Rinses
These are available in both over-the-counter and stronger, prescription-strength forms. Your dentist will recommend one that’s the correct strength for your child based on the condition of their teeth and the amount of fluoride they believe they are being exposed to already from water and fluoridated toothpaste. Generally, your child will need to rinse their mouth with the solution once or twice a day after brushing.
In-Office Fluoride Treatments
Your dentist may administer periodic treatments during which your child’s teeth are exposed to a high level of fluoride for a short period of time. This treatment is painless; your child just has to bite down on a tray for a few minutes.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry recommend using fluoridated toothpastes for babies and toddlers — whether or not your water also contains fluoride. Just make sure you only use a pea-sized amount of the toothpaste and supervise your child’s brushing routine so that they don’t swallow too much.
Are There Risks Involved With Fluoride Treatments and Supplements?
Those who speak out against fluoridation of the water supply often cite the risks of excessive fluoride exposure. It’s true that exposure to very high levels of fluoride can lead to a condition called skeletal fluorosis, in which the bones accumulate too much fluoride and become brittle.
However, this level of exposure is very rare and typically only occurs in a factory setting. The amount of fluoride contained in the United States’ tap water and toothpastes is not anywhere near high enough to cause these effects in children.
Some children do experience a mild side effect called dental fluorosis if they have a little too much fluoride exposure. This condition causes white spots to appear on the teeth. However, it does not harm the health of your child’s teeth or cause any pain. If you’re careful to minimize the amount of toothpaste that your child swallows and only use supplemental fluoride rinses as recommended by your dentist, the chance of dental fluorosis will be quite low.
Fluoride is absolutely essential for excellent dental health, and making sure your child gets enough is one of the best things you can do for their teeth. If you have any concerns about fluoride and your child’s dental health, speak with a pediatric dentist.