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Fluoride

What is fluoride?

The fluoride ion comes from the element fluorine. Fluoride, either applied topically to erupted teeth, or ingested orally (called systemic fluoride) during tooth development, helps to prevent tooth decay, strengthen tooth enamel, and reduce the harmful effects of plaque. Fluoride also makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is even visible.

Where is fluoride found?

Topical Fluoride
  • Found in products containing strong concentrations of fluoride (i.e., toothpastes, mouthrinses)
  • Fluoridated varnishes and/or gels either topically applied by a dentist or other oral healthcare professional, or prescribed as an at-home regimen (particularly for persons with a high risk of dental caries)
Systemic Fluoride
  • Public and private water supplies
  • Soft drinks
  • Teas
  • As dietary supplements
  • Some bottled water supplies

Once ingested, systemic fluoride is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract and distributed and deposited throughout the body via the blood supply.

Who should receive extra fluoride?

It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry that children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years take in some form of fluoride every day. The most common sources are drinking water (not bottled water) and toothpastes that contain fluoride. If your child primarily drinks bottled water, talk with your dentist about using a product that contains flouride. Your child's physician or dentist will determine if your child is not receiving enough fluoride and may choose to 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.

Picture of a young girl during a visit to her dentist

What health risks are associated with fluoride use?

In general, fluoride consumption is safe. Health risks associated with fluoridation are usually limited to misuse and over concentration. To avoid misuse and over concentration:

  • Avoid drinking overly fluoridated water--results of this may cause teeth to become discolored, and may cause the enamel of the teeth to look spotted, pitted, or stained (a condition known as dental fluorosis).
  • Avoid swallowing toothpaste and other dental hygiene products.
  • Call the local water department and/or the health department to evaluate the fluoride level in your local drinking reservoir.

Children are especially vulnerable to dental fluorosis as their developing teeth are more sensitive to higher fluoride levels. Flourosis only occurs in developing teeth, not those that have already erupted. Consult your child's doctor or dentist if you notice changes in the condition of your child's teeth.

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