Fluoride and Children

What is fluoride?

Fluoride, either applied topically to erupted teeth, or ingested orally (called systemic fluoride) during tooth development, helps to prevent tooth decay. It also strengthens tooth enamel, and reduces 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?

The most common sources for fluoride are tap water and toothpastes.

Topical fluoride

Systemic fluoride

  • Products containing mild (available over-the-counter) or strong (by prescription) concentration of fluoride (for example, toothpastes or mouth rinses)

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

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

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

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

    • These may be applied every 3 to 6 months beginning when the first tooth appears.

  • Public and private water supplies

  • Prescription supplements

  • Other sources include teas, 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.

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 have some form of fluoride every day.

If your child's primary source of tap water is not fluoridated, your child's health care provider or dentist may 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.

If your child mainly drinks bottled water, talk with your dentist about using a product that contains fluoride. Most children still get enough fluoride from brushing and eating food prepared with tap water.

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 swallowing toothpaste and other dental hygiene products.

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

  • Call the local water department and/or the health department to find out the fluoride level in your local drinking water.

Children are especially vulnerable to dental fluorosis as their developing teeth are more sensitive to higher fluoride levels. Fluorosis 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.