Fluoride Treatment for Kids: What Parents Should Know

What is fluoride? Get the fluoride facts here and find out why drinking water is one of the best ways to fight tooth decay.

Healthy doses of fluoride every day will keep the dentist at bay! What is fluoride, you ask?

“Fluoride is a natural occurring mineral [dentists] apply to the teeth that reduces the prevalence of cavities,” says Dr. Elizabeth Barber, a pediatric dentist at Ann Arbor Dental Specialists.

When a person consumes refined carbohydrates – sugars – bacteria produce acid that attacks a tooth’s enamel by removing minerals that keep teeth healthy, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to decay by adhering to the enamel layer and acting like a barrier against plaque.

Daily, lower-concentration doses of fluoride – including over-the-counter fluoridated toothpastes and mouth rinses – are important to your child’s dental health. Incorporating daily fluoride use into your child’s life can prevent one of the most prevalent childhood diseases worldwide – tooth decay. Children in the United State miss approximately 51 million school hours to oral diseases (most commonly dental decay) each year, according to the American Dental Association.

Stronger concentrations of fluoride come in gels, varnishes or foams that dentists apply to children’s teeth during their biannual checkups.

“The age at which dentists begin applying such treatments depends on the caries (decay) risk for that child,” says Barber. “If they’re low risk, or don’t have a prevalent history of tooth decay, we may not need to apply fluoride treatments.”

Still, fluoride intake in regular, small quantities is most important for children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years – when their permanent teeth are developing, WebMD notes. Parents can begin using fluoridated toothpastes on their child’s first baby tooth. Use a dollop “the size of a grain of rice,” Barber suggests.


Luckily, the most accessible weapon children possess in combating decay is their very own tap water – thanks to fluoridation. Fluoridation is very similar to fortifying milk with vitamin D or fruit juices with calcium – natural combatants against tooth decay.

Fluoride naturally dissolves into most ground water supplies, but at levels too low to prevent tooth decay (water.epa.gov). So many local municipalities adjust fluoride levels to reach an optimal level – 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of drinking water, which is effective for preventing cavities. For every $1 invested in water fluoridation, there’s a $38 savings in dental treatment costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Families should keep in mind that water fluoridation is endorsed by professional dental associations – including the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and the CDC – that conduct and consult scientific research, all fluoridated products are FDA-regulated and it’s easy to find out the fluoride levels of your water.

If you drink the city’s water, consult your local or state health department. If you drink well water, a water sample can be tested for mineral content. Simply contact your water utility provider to determine your well’s fluoride level. The contact information can be found on your water bill.

More information

The most common side effect of excess fluoride use is fluorosis – a painless cosmetic ailment consisting of white specks or streaks that appear on the enamel.

“Mild cases of fluorosis are almost always undetectable by most people,” says Barber. In fact, less than 9 percent of dental fluorosis cases are extreme – when brown pits form in the teeth, the CDC reports.

“When [dentists are] looking for preventative measures (to tooth decay), the risk fluoride poses is extremely minor and the benefits are profound in preventing cavities,” says Barber.

Barber points out that drinking water and using fluoridated products provide complementary benefits to dental hygiene. Nothing can replace the diligent work of a thorough toothbrush and floss. All work together as preventative measures against costly hours spent in the dentist’s office.

Get information on dental sealants, too, which are another way to keep your child’s teeth healthy.


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