Water fluoridation is a very effective method for preventing dental decay for children, adolescents and adults. Communities add fluoride to drinking water to prevent cavities in a safe, effective and cost-effective manner. It is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. Sixty years ago, Grand Rapids, Michigan adjusted the level of fluoride in its water supply and was the world’s first city to do so.
Fluoride is a hotly debated topic today, and many question its value and safety. This is what the American Dental Association (ADA) has to say about it, and why we promote and encourage the use of fluoride to prevent cavities.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It is found in soil, fresh water, salt water and in foods. It affects teeth making them more resistant to decay. Once decay has started, it can prevent or even reverse decay.
How does using fluoride to prevent cavities work?
Fluoride protects teeth in two ways – systemically and topically.
Systemic fluoride is ingested. When teeth are forming, ingested fluoride becomes part of the tooth structures providing longer-lasting protection than fluorides applied topically. Systemic fluoride provides some topical protection as well, since fluoride that is ingested is present in saliva. When fluoride is ingested, it is incorporated into dental plaque and promotes further remineralization of tooth structures. Systemic fluoride sources in the United States are found in fluoridated water, fluoride tablets, drops or lozenges and in food and beverages.
Topical fluorides are applied to teeth that have already erupted making them more resistant to decay. Topical fluorides are found in toothpastes, mouth rinses, lozenges and chewable tablets. In our office, topical fluorides are applied in the forms of fluoride foams, gels and varnishes. Drops may be added to drinking water to optimally adjust the levels of fluoride. Levels of fluoride are optimal when the right balance between fluoride and dental fluorosis is reached.
Are there health risks associated with water fluoridation?
Other than dental fluorosis, scientific studies have not determined a credible link between fluoride in drinking water and adverse effects to anyone’s health.
What is dental fluorosis?
Dental fluorosis causes small white specks to appear on children’s teeth when higher than optimal amounts of fluoride are ingested in children before birth and up to 6 years of age.
Dental fluorosis is caused when a under 6 years of age child has been exposed to more fluoride than is needed to prevent cavities. Before your child receives a specific series of fluoride treatments, you must take into account the amount of fluoride already received from other sources.
Should I be using a fluoride toothpaste on my child’s teeth?
For children under 3 years of age, the level of their risk of tooth decay determines their use of a fluoride toothpaste. Ask us to determine whether or not your child is at risk of developing cavities. If they are, brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.
Children 3 to 6 years of age should also use a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste, about the size of a green pea. Parents, assist your children with brushing their teeth.
We can assess the risk of your child’s development of cavities and recommend the best level of fluoride protection for them.
For more information on using fluoride to prevent cavities, see ADA Position on Use of Fluorides in Caries Prevention. You can always call our office at (307) 634-3488 with your concerns and any questions you may have about the use of fluoride.