Is Fluoride Bad for You?
By: Pediatric Dentist Charlie Inga and Dr. Katherine Schrubbe
For years, there’s been an ongoing debate on whether or not fluoride is safe and beneficial for humans, especially children. In reality, fluoride is an inexpensive way to reduce cavities and tooth decay (“dental caries”), a disease that affects people of all ages.
Everyone is susceptible to tooth decay, regardless of age, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fluoride is considered one of the 10 greatest public health achievements in the 20th century, and provides an important benefit to keeping teeth healthy.*
What Are The Different Types of Fluoride?
There are two kinds of fluoride:
- Systemic fluoride comes from food and drink and works internally. Over time, the fluoride in foods and drink you consume becomes a component in your saliva. The fluoride-rich saliva helps reduce the acidity on your teeth and thus reduces decay.
- Topical fluoride comes in the form of gels, foams and toothpaste. These products are applied directly to the teeth, where the fluoride disrupts the acidity on your teeth to reduce decay.
Both types of fluoride help in reducing decay, but together, have the greatest positive impact. It’s in your best interest to drink fluoridated water as well as use fluoride toothpaste twice per day.
Contrary to popular belief, fluoridated water is not a public health hazard. In fact, studies demonstrate that water fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by at least 25%. If the water in your city isn’t fluoridated, you can ask your physician for a dietary supplement to give you the fluoride benefit the city water lacks.
Is Fluoride Safe for Kids?
When used correctly, fluoride is absolutely safe for kids! Systemic fluoride, or fluoride in food or drink, provides an important benefit for infants because it works systemically before teeth are in the oral cavity. Fluoride helps strengthen the enamel during tooth formation so they're even stronger when they erupt.
We all know that foods high in sugar aren’t good for teeth. But even if foods don’t have added sugar, they most likely have natural sugar in them, and fluoride helps to buffer the acid-producing sugars in the everyday food and drink that your kids consume.
When Should Kids Start Using Fluoride Toothpaste?
As soon as you see teeth appear in your child’s mouth, you should start brushing their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. Large amounts of fluoride can be toxic to both children and adults, so make sure you teach your child how to rinse their mouth out when they’re done brushing. It’s important to use a toothpaste that's recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA), and that you make sure you keep the amount of toothpaste used appropriate (more about that below).
If your child has braces, make sure they’re brushing thoroughly around the brackets. A fluoride rinse, such as ACT, can be an added benefit to ensuring the food and plaque is removed from around the brackets.
How Much Fluoride Toothpaste Should I Give My Child?
For children under age 3, use a rice-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste, and for children ages 3 to 6, use a pea-sized amount. You should always supervise your child to be sure they’re not using too much toothpaste and to ensure they don’t swallow it.
A Note from Dr. Charlie Inga, Pediatric Dentist, Regarding Fluoride and Children:
A lot of people have strong opinions about using fluoride, especially in children. However, when used correctly, fluoride is extremely beneficial to helping children have healthier mouths.
Fluoride is a wonderful tool that we use on a daily basis to help strengthen teeth and lessen tooth decay. Fluoride toothpaste helps prevent tooth decay, and fluoride rinse (such as ACT) helps to lessen and, in some cases, even slows down the decay rate until we’re able to properly restore the child’s mouth.
If a child has tooth decay, fluoride helps to restore and strengthen their teeth. Even if a child doesn’t have tooth decay, fluoride will help keep it that way. Using a combination of fluoride toothpaste with a fluoride rinse is the best way to protect your child from tooth decay.