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Fluoride and Children

What is fluoride?

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. It can be put on the teeth or consumed in the water supply or in supplements (called systemic fluoride). It also strengthens tooth enamel, and reduces the harmful effects of plaque. Fluoride also makes the whole tooth more resistant to decay. And, it aids remineralization, which helps repair early decay.

Where is fluoride found?

The most common sources for fluoride are tap water and toothpastes.

Topical fluoride

  • Products with mild (available over-the-counter) or strong (by prescription) concentration of fluoride (for example, toothpastes or mouth rinses)

    • When your child's first tooth appears, start brushing his or her teeth using a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

    • At about age 3, use a pea-size amount of toothpaste.

    • Rinses should not be used in children under 6 years old.

  • Fluoridated varnishes, gels, or foams may be put on the teeth by a dentist or other dental healthcare professional.

    • These may be applied every 3 to 6 months beginning when the first tooth appears.

Systemic fluoride

  • Public and private water supplies

  • Prescription supplements

  • Other sources include teas, soft drinks, and some bottled water

Once ingested, systemic fluoride is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. It is then distributed and deposited throughout the body in the blood supply. It also returns to the mouth in the saliva to continually bathe the teeth in fluoride.

Who should get extra fluoride?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years have some form of fluoride every day.

If your child's main source of tap water is not fluoridated, your child's healthcare provider or dentist may prescribe fluoride supplements. These come either as drops or tablets that are taken by mouth. The amount of fluoride that is prescribed is based on the child's age and amount of fluoride in the drinking water.

If your child mainly drinks bottled water, talk with your dentist about using a product that contains fluoride. Most children still get enough fluoride from brushing and eating food prepared with tap water.

Picture of a young girl during a visit to her dentist

What health risks of fluoride use?

In general, fluoride is safe. Health risks of fluoride use are usually limited to misuse and over concentration. To avoid these risks:

  • Don't swallow toothpaste and other dental hygiene products.

  • Keep toothpaste out of young children's reach. Make sure you help your child with tooth-brushing until he or she is 7 to 8 years old.

  • Call the local water department or the health department to find out the fluoride level in your local drinking water.

Children are at risk for dental fluorosis as their teeth are more sensitive to fluoride. Fluorosis only occurs in developing teeth. It does not occur in teeth that have already erupted. Talk to your child's doctor or dentist if you notice changes in your child's teeth.

Fluoride and Children - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Eakle, W. Stephan, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Kapner, Michael, DDS
Last Review Date: 2015-09-09T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2015-09-16T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2015-09-16T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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