Benefits, side effects, and more
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps build strong teeth and prevent cavities.
For more than 70 years, most of America’s tap water has contained small amounts of fluoride to help reduce tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say fluoridated water reduced tooth decay by about 25 percent.
Fluoride treatments can offer even more significant benefits in protecting teeth. These treatments can be beneficial for people at risk for tooth decay, but they may not be suitable for everyone.
In this article, we examine the benefits and side effects of fluoride and fluoride treatment, as well as treatment recommendations.
Fluoride treatments are usually professional treatments that contain a high concentration of fluoride that a dentist or hygienist applies to a person’s teeth to improve health and reduce the risk of tooth decay. These office treatments can be in the form of a solution, gel, foam or varnish.
There are also some highly concentrated fluoride treatments that people can use at home, but only under the specific guidance of a dentist.
The fluoride that dentists use in these treatments is similar to the fluoride in toothpaste. However, the treatment contains much higher doses and can provide faster benefits.
Fluoride has several benefits for teeth:
- It helps the body make better use of minerals like calcium and phosphate. The teeth reabsorb these minerals to repair the weak enamel.
- It bonds with the tooth structure as teeth develop to strengthen tooth enamel and make them less susceptible to bacteria and cavities for life.
- It slows or even reverses the development of cavities by damaging bacteria that cause cavities.
Taken together, these benefits can help:
- Reduce the risk of voids
- slow down the growth of cavities
- delay the need for expensive dental work
- extend the life of milk teeth
- Reduce the time and money a person has to spend at the dentist
By preventing cavities and slowing bacterial growth, fluoride treatment can also:
- Prevent gum disease
- Reduce toothache
- Prevent premature loss of teeth
Fluoride treatments can improve oral health, which is an important indicator of overall health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Poor oral health can cause a number of other health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.
Some natural health advocates have raised concerns about high doses of fluoride. They also argue that fluoride is not safe for children and even fluoridated water can be dangerous.
However, it is a myth that fluoride treatments or fluorinated water cause widespread harm, although some people can experience some side effects, including:
The most common side effect of fluoride is tooth discoloration.
Fluorosis is a condition that causes white streaks or other discoloration on teeth. Fluorosis occurs when a child ingests too much fluoride while their baby and adult’s teeth develop under the gums. A child can develop fluorosis from birth to 8 years of age.
Discoloration is more common in young children who consume too much fluoride, either from taking fluoride supplements or swallowing toothpaste.
The United States Public Health Service has set guidelines for the amount of fluoride that drinking water should contain in the community to prevent tooth decay and minimize the risk of dental fluorosis. This content is currently 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter (mg / l) of water.
Experts recommend that children who are too young to spit out toothpaste on their own should also use fluoridated toothpaste.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends parents or caregivers use a tiny amount of fluoridated toothpaste as soon as the child’s first tooth erupts. This will protect a child’s teeth from tooth decay, but will not put them at risk for fluorosis if the child accidentally ingests the toothpaste.
Allergies or irritation
A person may be allergic to fluoride or experience skin irritation, although these reactions are rare.
Fluoride can be toxic if a person uses it incorrectly or in very high doses. However, this is unusual.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the use of professional fluoride varnish for children under 6 years of age. Fluoride varnish is the preferred option for young children as they have a tendency to swallow foams or gels, which can cause nausea and vomiting.
The CDC and ADA recommend that frequent daily exposure to small amounts of fluoride is the best way to reduce the risk of dental cavities for all ages.
For most people, this means drinking tap water with the optimal amount of fluoride and brushing your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. For children and adults who may be at greater risk of tooth decay, fluoride treatments can provide additional benefits.
Tooth cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease, five times more common than asthma.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends fluoride treatment for all children as soon as their teeth start growing to prevent tooth decay, pain, and future dental infections.
Dentists or doctors should repeat fluoride treatment every 3 to 6 months, depending on a child’s cavity risk.
To reduce the risk of overexposure to fluoride, dentists also recommend the following:
- Caregivers should brush children’s teeth with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste to reduce tooth decay and minimize the risk of fluorosis. For children under 3 years of age, use no more than a swab or rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. For children 3 to 6 years old, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Always monitor a child’s brushing to make sure they are using the correct amount of toothpaste and try to get them to spit out most of it if they can.
- Children under the age of 6 should not use fluoride rinses such as mouthwash at home because they may swallow too much fluoride.
The fluoride recommendations for adults vary. Various studies have looked at a range of concentrations, doses, and frequency of treatment.
If a person is at moderate to high risk of developing tooth decay, professional fluoride treatment may be helpful. Experts recommend that people at high risk of tooth decay receive professional fluoride treatments twice a year.
People should discuss the risks and benefits of fluoride treatment with their dentists. It’s important to consider all sources of fluoride, including fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash.
People who live in areas where the water does not contain fluoride can get greater benefits from regular fluoride treatments.
A considerable body of evidence from randomized controlled trials, which is the gold standard of scientific studies, has demonstrated the benefits of topical fluoride treatments in preventing decay.
A systematic review reports that fluoride treatments such as fluoride varnish have a significant impact on preventing cavities in both primary and permanent teeth.
Fluoride treatments are safe for most people. Even if there are side effects, those effects are usually minimal compared to the benefits. Most of the damage is likely caused by ingesting very high amounts of fluoride.
This does not mean that all fluoride treatments are safe for all people at all times. People at risk of tooth decay or at risk of tooth decay should raise their concerns with a dentist they trust.