Fluoride is found in many foods and drinks, our communities’ public drinking water, and in most of the oral care products we use. It is a mineral that is found naturally in all water sources, in soil, and even in the air. Decades of research shows that fluoride safely and effectively helps prevent tooth decay by making tooth enamel stronger and more resistant to cavity-causing acids. Some still question whether or not fluoride is safe for young children – we’re here to help answer your questions!
Is Fluoride Safe For Children?
Yes, fluoride is perfectly safe when used and consumed normally, and very beneficial and effective in preventing tooth decay. But, as with everything, its use should be limited and monitored with young children. Children eight years old and younger are more susceptible to the effects of excessive fluoride (called fluorosis) because their teeth and bones are still developing.
Dental fluorosis can occur if young children ingest too much fluoride while their adult teeth are still developing under the gums, and results in white spots on teeth. It is a harmless but permanent condition that only changes the appearance of teeth.
Skeletal fluorosis is a more serious condition that is the result of chronic ingestion of large amounts of fluoride over many years, particularly during periods of bone growth and development. Stiffness and pain in the joint are early symptoms of skeletal fluorosis, and bones are generally weaker than normal. Skeletal fluorosis may be reversible with treatment, but effects may linger for years.
Like everything, fluoride can be dangerous when consumed at very high concentrations. However, fluoride is perfectly safe at low levels, which US regulations strictly adhere to. The recommended, regulated level of fluoride added to our drinking water is 0.7ppm (or 0.7mg of fluoride per 1 liter of water). Fluoride amounts in toothpaste vary widely, but because fluoridated toothpaste is a topical treatment and not a systemic one, it is not harmful unless it is consistently ingested over a span of years. Other topical fluoride treatments, like in-office fluoride applications, can actually be very beneficial for children who are still learning how to brush and floss regularly.
How to Prevent Fluorosis
Preventing fluorosis is largely quite simple: limit the amount of toothpaste young children use, and monitor tooth-brushing time to make sure they do not swallow toothpaste while brushing.
We recommend using a rice-sized smear of toothpaste for babies and toddlers around 3 years of age and younger. When they are old enough to brush their teeth themselves, increase to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, and always monitor and instruct children to make sure they are not swallowing the toothpaste.
If your child is two years old or younger and your dentist determines there is a low risk of cavities, you can use a rice-sized smear of non-fluoride toothpaste to clean your child’s mouth. However, it is very important to switch to fluoride toothpaste as soon as your child’s first teeth erupt, in order to greatly decrease the chance of developing cavities. Simply make sure that your child uses the appropriate amount of toothpaste, and that they are not swallowing the toothpaste.
When used properly, fluoride is perfectly safe even for very young children and toddlers. Use an ADA approved fluoride toothpaste, limit how much toothpaste is used, and make sure your young child does not swallow toothpaste while they brush. Fluoride goes a long way in preventing tooth decay!