Common Questions About Fluoride

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What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral that is proven to prevent tooth decay. It works by remineralizing the enamel and by slowing down the activity of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Fluoride is present in most toothpastes and is added to many communities’ drinking water.

Why do communities add fluoride to their water?

All water naturally contains some fluoride. The majority of communities in the United States add additional fluoride to their water. Community water fluoridation is considered one of the most successful and cost-effective health achievements of the 20th century. It began in the 1940s, when it was observed that residents of communities with fluoridated water had lower rates of tooth decay. It is now attributed to a 20 to 40% reduction in tooth decay levels. Community water fluoridation benefits all members of a city or town, regardless of economic status. The greatest effect is with children during the tooth forming years.

In Jan 2011, the government came out with new recommendations to set the amount of fluoride in drinking water at 0.7 milligrams per liter of water for all cities and towns. Since 1962, the recommendation had been 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams, depending on climate. Areas with warmer temperatures were recommended to use the lower levels of fluoride because people were believed to drink more water. Colder climates used higher levels of fluoride because people drink less water.

What are the risks of getting too much fluoride?

If a person gets too much fluoride, they can get dental fluorosis. Most cases of this are mild and appear as white spots on the teeth. A more severe case would cause pits in the enamel, although this is a rare occurrence.

A long-term excessive amount of fluoride could cause skeletal fluorosis, a condition causing increased bone fractures. This condition is extremely rare in the United States.

Should children use fluoride?

Fluoride is most effective in children during the years that the teeth are forming. For children over 2 years of age, toothpastes with fluoride are recommended. Because children tend to swallow more toothpaste than adults, it is important that they only use a pea sized amount of toothpaste. For children living in communities with water that is not fluoridated, parents should contact their pediatrician about receiving fluoride supplements.

When should adults use additional fluoride?

Adults who get a lot of cavities, and those experiencing teeth sensitivity should consider using additional fluoride. Some common options for receiving additional fluoride include professional fluoride treatments, and prescription fluoride toothpaste for at home use.

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