Fluoride helps keep tooth decay in young children at bay. However, excess fluoride can result in the condition known as dental fluorosis. It isn’t a disease, and most parents won’t notice it on their children’s teeth. The benefits of fluoride in fighting cavities outweigh the risks of dental fluorosis.
What Is Dental Fluorosis?
It was recognized as far back as the turn of the 20th century that fluoride could prevent tooth decay. It wasn’t until after the end of World War II that the first national fluoridation study was conducted in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After the city fluoridated its water, the number of dental caries in children dropped by 60% in just over a decade.
Today, fluoridated water and oral healthcare products are standard. However, taking in more than the necessary amount of fluoride over a long period can lead to dental fluorosis. Young children are the ones affected by dental fluorosis. Beyond that age, when the permanent teeth are in, dental fluorosis will not develop.
Dental fluorosis causes no harm to the teeth. Its presence does not weaken teeth in any way. In fact, dental fluorosis can help prevent tooth decay.
Signs and Symptoms of Dental Fluorosis
As noted, most parents are unaware of whether their children have dental fluorosis. The signs are subtle. Mild signs involve tooth color changes.
If you notice the following on your child’s teeth, suspect dental fluorosis:
- Thin, white horizontal lines across the tooth surface
- Cloudy, patchy areas on some teeth
- Chalky white teeth
- Lack of tooth transparency
- Yellow to light brown staining
In more severe cases resulting from excessive amounts of fluoride, pitting on the teeth may occur. However, severe cases are rare in the United States.
Does Dental Fluorosis Go Away?
Most cases of dental fluorosis are so mild that symptoms are unnoticeable. If the back teeth are affected, no one sees them. Moderate-to-severe dental fluorosis — involving pitting of the enamel — will not go away on its own. Cosmetic procedures can restore discolored or damaged teeth.
Dental Fluorosis Prevention
The only way of preventing dental fluorosis is to ensure your child receives the proper amount of fluoride and not too much. There are methods to prevent this condition, and they begin when your baby is born.
Breastfeeding the baby until six months and then transitioning to solid food is the best way to start. Continue breastfeeding at least until your child’s first birthday. Of course, this is not possible for many mothers. Speak with your pediatrician about the best formula for your infant. Formulas requiring mixing with water may contribute to dental fluorosis if the water fluoride levels are elevated.
Once your child’s teeth start erupting, brush them gently twice daily. As the child learns to brush their own teeth, make sure they are brushing correctly and using small amounts of toothpaste. Tiny amounts of toothpaste are essential because kids tend to swallow it. Consuming too much toothpaste can lead to dental fluorosis. Teach your kids to put the toothpaste equivalent of a grain of rice on their toothbrushes. Supervise their brushing until the age of 8.
Avoid Fluoride Rinses or Mouthwashes
Unless your dentist advises otherwise, don’t give children under age six types of mouthwash or rinses containing fluoride. Until that age, the swallowing reflex is not fully developed, and a lot of that rinse ends up going down the throat.
Doctors or dentists may prescribe fluoride tablets for some conditions. If the child is already taking in the right amount of fluoride, that can trigger dental fluorosis. Discuss with a dentist the type of toothpaste and any other oral products your child uses beforehand.
After the age of eight, children are unlikely to develop dental fluorosis. By that time, their permanent teeth are no longer forming beneath the gums.
Drink Safe Water
It’s critical for parents to know how much fluoride is present in their drinking water. Without that knowledge, they do not know whether their child is receiving sufficient or insufficient or excessive amounts.
Your public water utility will likely post information about its water fluoridation status on its website. If that information is not there, contact the utility.
Those dependent on well water should have their water regularly tested by the local health board or a private contractor to determine fluoridation levels. If the water has high fluoridation levels, consider an alternative source of drinking water, such as bottled products. The alternative water source must have the recommended fluoride levels. That recommended level is 0.7 mg/L, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When it comes to dental fluorosis, only a dentist can generally tell if your child is affected. That is just one among many reasons why children should receive regular dental care.
If you would like more information about dental fluorosis, whether your children are affected and treatment options, contact the team at West Coast Dental today at 888-329-8111. West Coast Dental is Southern California’s friendly neighborhood dental service.
Mouth Healthy – Dental Fluorosis
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacia Research (NIDCR) – National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (nih.gov)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Fluorosis
Monographs in Oral Science – “Chronic Fluoride Toxicity: Dental Fluorosis”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – How can I prevent dental fluorosis in my children?
American Dental Association (ADA) – Fluoride: Topical and Systemic Supplements