The tooth-strengthening power of fluoride is arguably the most important discovery in the history of preventive dentistry. This naturally occurring mineral has helped countless people stave off and recover from tooth decay.
While there are reasons to be cautious about the use of fluoride with very young children, it is largely a safe and effective way to maintain good oral hygiene.
Fluoride and Tooth Development
Even before teeth come in, fluoride can increase their resistance to decay. After the teeth break through the gums, fluoride continues to act as a barrier against bacteria that erode tooth enamel, and also helps repair teeth that have been exposed to the acids that wear them away.
A little goes a long way.
Like calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients, there are recommended daily amounts of fluoride every individual should be getting. How much varies depending on factors such as age, gender, and weight, but some general guidelines from the National Institutes for Health are:
0-6 months 0.01 mg/day
7-12 months 0.5 mg/day
1-3 years 0.7 mg/day
4-8 years 1 mg/day
9-13 years 2 mg/day
14-18 years 3 mg/day
19 and up (women) 3 mg/day*
19 and up (men) 4 mg/day
The NIH notes that the recommended daily intake does not change for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Fluoride is everywhere.
Trace amounts of fluoride are found in just about every type of organic material: groundwater, soil, and most vegetation.
Shellfish, especially crab, and russet potatoes are two foods that are considered good sources of fluoride. Black tea and white wine also have high fluoride content.
While all water contains fluoride, many municipalities have been enhancing the fluoride content of their drinking water for decades, based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Studies have shown that people living in communities with fluoridated water systems experience many benefits, including:
- A 25 percent reduction in tooth decay for adults and children.
- Children have a third the chance of hospitalization for dental surgery
- Every dollar spent on fluoridation saves an average of $38 in costs for dental treatment.
Fluoride has minimal risks.
Children who ingest too much fluoride may develop white lines or streaks on their teeth. This condition, known as fluorosis, occurs only in the pre-eruptive stage. It is not a disease that carries any other health consequences, and in most cases, the cosmetic impact is barely detectable.
Nevertheless, it is wise to be cautious about fluoride intake with infants and children whose teeth have not yet burst through their gums. Breastfeeding, healthy for so many reasons, is the best way to ensure your infant is not at risk for fluorosis. Women who drink fluoridated water do not pass high quantities of fluoride in their milk in the way that formula made from fluoridated water might. If you want to feed formula to your baby, consult with your pediatrician about ready-made brands that won’t contain the same amount of fluoride.
During your child’s first dental appointment, you’ll learn that it is OK to use toothpaste that contains fluoride. However, the amount of toothpaste needed is very small, about the size of a rice grain.
For children between the ages of 3 and 6, the amount of toothpaste can be increased to the size of a pea. Monitor your children’s brushing habits to ensure they are not swallowing toothpaste.
Similarly, mouthwashes that contain fluoride are not recommended for children below the age of 7, as they may accidentally swallow more than they spit out.
If you have questions about what brands of dental products are best for your family, or the effects of fluoride, be sure to ask your Harker Heights dentist during your next appointment. We are happy to help guide you toward the best practices that keep your teeth healthy and strong throughout your lifetime. Schedule an appointment for a comprehensive exam and cleaning with Dr. Katende.