Health Library


What is fluoride?

Fluoride, either applied to the surface of the teeth, or consumed through the water supply or supplements (called systemic fluoride) helps prevent tooth decay. It also strengthens tooth enamel, and reduced 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 damage is even visible.

Where is fluoride found?

Topical fluoride

  • Products containing fluoride, like most tooth pastes, mouth rinses

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

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

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

  • Fluoridated varnishes and/or gels either topically applied by a dentist or other health professional

    • They 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 may be tea, soft drinks, and some bottled water

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

What health risks are associated with fluoride use?

Picture of a young girl during a visit to her dentist

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 swallowing toothpaste and other dental hygiene products

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

  • Call the local water department and/or the health department to find out about fluoride in your local drinking water. If your water is fluoridated, you won't need a fluoride supplement.

Children are especially vulnerable to dental fluorosis as their developing teeth are more sensitive to higher fluoride levels. Dental fluorosis is not a disease, but rather how the teeth appear. The American Dental Association defines mild enamel fluorosis as barely noticeable, faint, white lines or streaks on tooth enamel. The discoloration does not affect the teeth's health or function. Fluorosis only occurs in developing teeth, not those that have already erupted. Consult a pediatric dentist or other oral health care professional if you notice changes in the condition of your child's teeth.

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