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Fluoride During Childhood

Overview

Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay and dental cavities. It may be added to local water supplies, toothpastes, and other mouth care products. Pediatric dentists recommend that you use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste up to age 3. Ask your dentist if this is right for your child. Use a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years.footnote 1

Tooth decay is reduced in children if fluoride is added to or is found naturally in a community's water supply. To find out how much fluoride is in your drinking water, call your local water company or the state health department. If you have your own well, have the state health department check your water to find out if your family needs fluoride from other sources. The amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that your child's doctor:footnote 2

  • Prescribe a fluoride supplement to children 6 months of age and older if their primary water source lacks enough fluoride.
  • Apply fluoride varnish to the primary teeth of all children 5 years of age and younger.

If your child has a high risk of getting cavities, your dentist may recommend other sources of fluoride. These include supplements or a gel or varnish that the dentist applies to your child's teeth. Use supplements only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child. Too much fluoride can be toxic. And it can stain a child's teeth.

Safety

Fluoride is safe in the amounts provided in water supplies, but it can be toxic in large amounts.

Keep all products containing fluoride, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, away from children. If you think your child may have swallowed too much fluoride, call your local poison control center or the National Poison Control Hotline right away at 1-800-222-1222.

Fluorosis

Too much fluoride swallowed during the early childhood years may cause white, brown, or black spots or streaks on the outside of the teeth. These stains on the teeth are called fluorosis. They may also cause the tooth enamel to become rough.

  • Fluorosis occurs during the first 8 years of childhood while the outer enamel layer of the teeth is still growing.
  • Fluorosis isn't harmful to your general health. In rare, severe cases of stains caused by too much fluoride, a dentist may whiten the teeth to remove stains. Or the dentist may bond resin fillings onto the tooth to cover stains.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2018). Policy on use of fluoride. In The Reference Manual of Pediatric Dentistry, pp. 64–65. Chicago: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. https://www.aapd.org/research/oral-health-policies--recommendations/use-of-fluoride. Accessed July 13, 2021.
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2014). Prevention of dental caries in children from birth through age 5 years: Recommendation statement. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf12/dentalprek/dentchfinalrs.htm. Accessed May 15, 2014.

Credits

Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Arden Christen DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

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