Is it Right for You? Fluoride Facts to Help You Decide

First, you want to know that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral which protects teeth from tooth decay.

Why is fluoride added to water and toothpaste?

Fluoride in the mouth (in the saliva and dental plaque) is an effective way to prevent tooth decay. The health benefits of fluoride are:

  • Fewer cavities and less severe cavities.
  • Less need for fillings and tooth extractions.
  • Less pain and suffering associated with tooth decay.

How does fluoride work to prevent tooth decay?

Fluoride works by stopping or even reversing the tooth decay process—it keeps tooth enamel strong and solid. Tooth decay is caused by certain bacteria in the mouth. When a person eats sugar and other refined carbohydrates, these bacteria produce acid that removes minerals from the surface of the tooth. Fluoride helps to remineralize tooth surfaces and prevents cavities from forming.


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What is community water fluoridation?

Almost all water contains some naturally-occurring fluoride, but usually at levels too low to prevent tooth decay. Many communities adjust the fluoride concentration in the water supply to a level known to reduce tooth decay and promote good oral health (often called the optimal level). This practice is known as community water fluoridation, and reaches all people who drink that water. Given the dramatic decline in tooth decay during the past 70 years since community water fluoridation was initiated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named fluoridation of drinking water to prevent dental caries (tooth decay) as one of Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century.

Why did the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) make a new recommendation for community water fluoridation?

Fluoride facts indicate that sources of fluoride have increased since the early 1960s. Today, water is only one of several sources of fluoride. Other sources include dental products such as toothpaste and mouth rinses, prescription fluoride supplements, and professionally applied fluoride products such as varnish and gels. Because it is now possible to receive enough fluoride with slightly lower amounts of fluoride in water, HHS developed a new recommendation for the lower level of fluoride (0.7 milligrams per liter) that is to be used in community water fluoridation.


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What is dental fluorosis?

Dental fluorosis is a condition that causes changes in the appearance of tooth enamel. It may result when children regularly consume fluoride during the teeth-forming years, age 8 and younger. Most dental fluorosis in the U.S.—about 92 percent—is very mild to mild, appearing as white spots on the tooth surface that may not be noticeable.

Moderate and severe forms of dental fluorosis, which are less common, cause more extensive enamel changes. In the rare, severe form, pits may form in the teeth. The severe form hardly ever occurs in communities where the level of fluoride in water is less than 2 milligrams per liter.

Controlling Young Children’s Intake

Young children often have trouble controlling their swallowing reflex and swallow toothpaste while toothbrushing.

As soon as the first tooth appears, begin cleaning by brushing without toothpaste with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and plain water after each feeding. Begin using toothpaste with fluoride when the child is 2 years old. Only use toothpaste with fluoride earlier if your child’s dentist or doctor recommends it.

Brush your child’s teeth two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste,
Apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush, and
Supervise your child’s tooth brushing, encouraging the child to spit out toothpaste rather than swallow it.

If your child’s dentist or doctor prescribes a fluoride supplement (or vitamin supplement that contains fluoride), ask him or her about any risk factors your child has for decay and the potential for dental fluorosis. If you live in an area with fluoridated water, fluoride supplements are not recommended.

Fluoride and Formula

You can use fluoridated water for preparing infant formula. However, if your baby is exclusively consuming infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water, there may be an increased potential for mild dental fluorosis. To lessen this chance, parents can use low-fluoride bottled water some of the time to mix infant formula; these bottles are labeled as de-ionized, purified, demineralized, or distilled and without any fluoride added after purification treatment. If fluoride has been added after purification, the product will be labeled accordingly.

Other Sources of Fluoride in Everyday Food and Products

Commercial foods and beverages made with fluoridated water are an additional source of fluoride intake. Other fluoride-containing dental products, such as gels, varnishes, pastes, and dietary supplements are applied or prescribed by a health care professional. Most of these products are used only occasionally on the outside of the tooth and do not contribute much to a child’s total intake of fluoride. Dietary fluoride supplements do contribute to the total amount of fluoride taken in.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention