Fluoride - Nature's Cavity Fighter

WHAT IS FLUORIDE?  WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources, including the oceans.  Fluoride can prevent cavities in children and adults.  The fluoride helps protect tooth enamel from the acid attacks that cause cavities.  It also helps repair weakened enamel before cavities form. 

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET FLUORIDE?

Teeth can get fluoride in 2 ways:  when it is swallowed and when it is put onto the tooth surface.  To prevent cavities, it is best to get a little bit of fluoride both ways.  More fluoride is not always better.  Dentists use the term "optimal" to mean "just the right amount."

Fluoride that is swallowed usually comes from tap water.  In some parts of the US, the tap water naturally has an optimal amount of fluoride.  In other places, the tap water does not.  So some cities and towns add fluoride to the tap water.  This is called "water fluoridation."  If your community's water does not have an optimal amount of fluoride, talk to your dentist or pediatrician about your family's fluoride needs. 

When fluoride is put onto the surface of your teeth, it is called topical fluoride.  Fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses sold in stores contain topical fluoride.  Also, your dentist can apply topical fluoride gels and varnishes onto your teeth. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WATER FLUORIDATION?

 

Studies show that water fluoridation reduces cavities by at least 25% in children and adults.  Water fluoridation benefits everyone, especially those without access to regular dental care.  It also saves money.  The cost of a lifetime of fluoridated water is less than the cost of one filling.  And it's easy.  You can protect your teeth from cavities simply by drinking water, whether you are at home, work or school. 

To find out if the tap water in your area contains fluoride at a level that can help prevent cavities, ask your dentist.  You can also contact your local, county, or state health department or water supplier.  If you have a private well, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you test it every year.  Contact your local, county, or state health departments to get a list of certified labs that can test fluoride levels.

BOTTLED WATER

Most bottled waters do not have the levels of fluoride needed to help prevent cavities.  So, people who often drink bottled water could be missing the benefits of water fluoridation.  To learn about the fluoride level in the water, check the label.  If it is not listed, contact the bottler. 

HOME WATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS

Your home water filter system might remove fluoride from the water.  Generally, filters that come in pitchers or attach to your faucet do not remove a lot of fluoride.  Reverse osmosis and distillation units remove almost all of the fluoride.  Check with the product's maker to learn if the filter or system removes fluoride from your drinking water. 

IS FLUORIDE SAFE?

More than 65 years of study and experience have shown that water fluoridation is safe.  Fluoridation of community water is supported by the American Dental Association (ADA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization. 

OTHER SOURCES OF FLUORIDE

Not everyone lives in an area with optimally fluoridated water.  For those people, fluoride is available in other forms.  

  • Fluoride supplements 

    • Fluoride pills, drops, and lozenges are available only by prescription.  They are for children between 6 months and 16 years old who lives in areas with little or no fluoride in the water, and are high risk of tooth decay.  For best results, these fluoride products should be used every day until the child is 16 years old.  Ask your child's dentist or physician about your child's fluoride needs. ​

  • Over-the-counter fluoride products

    • Fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses with the ADA Seal of Acceptance help prevent cavities in children and adults.  When you shop for dental products, look for the ADA seal so you know that a product is safe and effective.  Brush your teeth or your child's teeth well twice a day or as directed by your dentist or physician.

  • For children 2 to 6 years old:

    • Place only one pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on the child's toothbrush at each brushing.  If you are thinking of using fluoride toothpaste before the child reaches age two, first ask your child's dentist or physician.

  • Children under 6:

    • Children under 6 should not use a fluoride mouth rinse because they may swallow it.  Parents should keep an eye on children under 6 when they use fluoride dental products.  More fluoride is not always better.  These products should be stored out of the reach of young children. 

FLUOROSIS - WHAT IS IS AND WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

What is dental enamel fluorosis? 

Fluorosis is a cosmetic condition that affects the teeth.  It's caused by overexposure to fluoride during the first eight years of life.  This is the time when most permanent teeth are being formed.  After the teeth come in, the teeth of those affected by Fluorosis may appear mildly discolored.  For instance, there may be lacy white markings that only dentists can detect. 

Fluorosis prevention

Parental vigilance is the key to preventing Fluorosis.  If your water comes from a public system, your local water authority of public health department can tell you how much fluoride is in it.  If you rely on well water or bottled water, your public health department or a local laboratory can analyze its fluoride content.  Once you know how much fluoride your child is getting from drinking water and other sources, you can work with your dentist to decide whether or not your child should have a fluoride supplement.  

At home, keep all fluoride-containing productions such as toothpaste, mouth rinses and supplements out of the reach of young children.  If a child ingests a large amount of fluoride in a short period of time, it may cause symptoms such as:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

VISIT ADA.ORG/FLUORIDE FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION ABOUT FLUORIDE AND FLUORIDATION.