Shopping for your child’s first tube of toothpaste can leave you feeling a little confused. As you browse around the kids’ toothpaste section for a flavor they might like, you’ll see a ton of brand’s proudly touting that they’re “fluoride-free”. But a stripped-down formula can seem counterintuitive for a parent trying to protect their children’s teeth.
Fluoride is a crucial ingredient in your regular toothpaste, so why is it left out of your kid’s toothpaste? Is fluoride safe for you but not for your children?
It can raise a lot of questions and make many parents uneasy about introducing their children to fluoride. We’ll help ease the concern by letting you know the benefits and risks of fluoride and when it’s safe to give it to your children.
What Is Fluoride?
A compound of fluorine, the mineral called fluoride is found naturally in rocks, water, soil, and plants. Fluoride is added to toothpaste and mouth rinses as an important factor in a healthy smile.
Because of its value for maintaining your teeth, most public water supplies use fluoridation. By adding fluoride to the drinking water, members of the community get an adequate supply to help keep their teeth protected from cavities.
How Cavities Form
Your teeth have a strong coating of enamel covering the sensitive dentin and pulp layers underneath. It’s an incredibly hard substance consisting mainly of hydroxyapatite, which itself is mainly calcium and phosphate. The composition fortifies it against the abuse of harmful bacteria.
Those harmful bacteria can still break through enamel if your teeth don’t get any help. When food gets stuck to your teeth, the bacteria feed on the sugars and carbs to produce acids that eat away at the enamel, eventually causing a cavity.
Your saliva is one line of defense in protecting your enamel. Full of calcium and phosphate, your saliva replenishes your enamel and helps wash away food particles.
Although it helps your teeth put up a good fight, saliva alone won’t prevent cavities from forming. That’s where fluoride comes in.
The Importance of Fluoride
The fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste, and mouthwashes is a powerful additive to the calcium and phosphate in your teeth. When mixed, these three minerals create a powerful cavity fighter called fluorapatite.
Demineralization is the breakdown of enamel that creates cavities. Fluorapatite is more resistant to demineralization than enamel and the compounds in your saliva, so it slows down the wear on your teeth. It goes a step further by treating worn-down enamel and promoting remineralization, helping your teeth heal.
Fluoride creates a hardy shield for your teeth. It reduces the bacteria growth and mineral loss that lead to cavities and can even help reverse the initial stages of decay. As a provider of sedation dentistry for kids, we know that preventing cavities with fluoride is vital to avoid more uncomfortable procedures to fix tooth decay at a young age.
Is Fluoride Safe?
Fluoride was a game-changer when it was introduced into municipal water supplies and toothpaste. Tooth decay rates dropped dramatically and more people now live pain-free because of those steps.
So, if fluoride is so critical that we even add it to the drinking water, why are there those fluoride-free kid’s toothpaste brands?
The main reason is that kids aren’t very good at spitting, or at least not when they’re told.
As your child develops, preventing cavities is crucial to avoid worse dental and general health conditions later in life. Fluoride can be as helpful for children as it is for adults, but their inability to spit can cause them to swallow more fluoride than they should.
What Happens if You Ingest Too Much Fluoride?
Dental fluorosis is a mild symptom of too much fluoride. Small white specks that are otherwise harmless will show up on the enamel.
A more severe condition called skeletal fluorosis can develop when excess fluoride is used for several years. The condition can be painful, with discomfort arising in your bones and joints. As it worsens, bones lose their elasticity and ligaments can calcify, leading to stiffness and greater susceptibility to breaks.
Other research has suggested a neurotoxic characteristic of fluoride that can affect cognitive function, along with thyroid and cardiovascular issues. Although it’s safe in reasonable amounts, many worry about the effects of fluoride on their children’s development.
Most of the health problems caused by an excess of fluoride are rare, and it’s much safer to provide fluoride to some degree than none at all. Children do need close attention when they use fluoride though. They are more likely to take in more fluoride than necessary by accident, and they should use less than adults in general.
How To Keep Your Children Safe With Fluoride
Dental fluorosis is most common in children under 8 years old because their teeth are still developing. Until they’re older, it’s crucial to limit the amount of fluoride they use.
Healthy drinking habits are ideal no matter how old you are, so limiting the amount of fluoridated water your children drink isn’t necessary to protect their teeth. Fluoride levels are closely monitored to ensure safe levels for everyone. Instead, focus on how your kids use fluoride during their brushing routine.
You can use fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth emerges, but you’ll need just a tiny amount until your child has learned how to spit. Use a drop of toothpaste about the size of a piece of rice to start. When your child is around 3-4 years old and is comfortable spitting, you can up the amount to a pea-sized dollop.
At this age, focus on good brushing and flossing habits. Don’t push fluoride mouth rinses as they can do more harm than good.
Make sure to stay on top of trips to the best child dentist in your area as well. A fluoride coating is an important part of pediatric teeth cleaning, and your local pediatric dentist will do their part to let you know about proper teeth care practices.
Remember the Dentist
Is fluoride safe for children? Absolutely. It’s one of the most invaluable tools in cavity prevention for people of all ages.
With good brushing habits and close care, parents can ensure their children are using fluoride safely and taking all the right steps toward total dental health. For information on healthy habits for your child or to schedule a dental checkup, contact our team at Nolensville Pediatric Dentistry today.