Fluoride Protects your Child’s Teeth

Fluoride is the most effective agent available to prevent tooth decay. Generations of people benefited from drinking naturally fluoridated water without knowing what it was that gave them good teeth. It was only after many years of investigation by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere that it was determined that fluoride is responsible for protecting teeth from dental decay. Fluoride is one of many elements naturally occurring in the earth, and is found in varying amounts in almost all waters and soils.

Community Water Fluoridation

From extensive research it has been established that approximately one part fluoride per one million parts (1 ppm) of water prevents up to 60 percent of the tooth decay that would ordinarily occur. Fluoride benefits the teeth that have erupted as well as those developing in the jaws. Maximum protection against tooth decay is achieved when optimally fluoridated water is consumed from birth. Protection continues throughout life for persons who continue to live in fluoridated communities.

Communities with inadequate amounts of fluoride in their public water supply can achieve protection for their children’s teeth by adjusting the fluoride content to the recommended level. This effective public health measure costs approximately 35 cents per person per year.

Because nearly one-sixth of all Americans live in areas that do not have central water systems and therefore cannot enjoy the health benefits of community water fluoridation, various alternative methods of fluoride application have been developed.

School Fluoridation

An alternative public health measure is school fluoridation. Schools that have an independent water supply can fluoridate it by installing the necessary equipment. More fluoride (approximately 4.5 times the concentration used in public water supplies) is recommended in the school water supply to compensate for the time that children are not in school. Many states in the U.S. have school fluoridation programs.

Fluoride Tablets and Drugs

The use of dietary supplements of fluoride tablets or drops is also an effective and inexpensive measure against tooth decay. These supplements can be prescribed by your physician or dentist. Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for infants from birth until they are able to consume fluoride tablets. Fluoride tablets are prescribed for children up through the teen years. For maximum effectiveness, the drops and tablets must be consumed daily. Because some parents find it difficult to follow a protracted daily routine, public health programs in which fluoride tablets are provided to children in school have been established in some areas. The tablets are first chewed and the resultant solution is swished in the mouth before it is swallowed. This procedure benefits the teeth that have erupted as well as those being formed in the jaws.

Fluoride-Containing Mouthrinses

Another effective method of increasing the resistance of teeth to decay is rinsing with dilute solutions of neutral sodium fluoride. Rinsing for one minute with fluoride is done either daily or weekly depending upon the amount of fluoride in the solution. A 0.05 percent solution of neutral sodium fluoride is used for daily rinsing and a 0.2 percent solution is recommended for weekly rinsing. Studies show that school-age children who rinse weekly with a fluoride solution will have about 35 percent fewer cavities than usually expected. Other studies suggest that fluoride mouthrinses may provide added protection for youngsters receiving community fluoridated water as well. Fluoride mouthrinsing programs are easily conducted in schools and, in fact, thousands of children are participating across the county in weekly fluoride mouthrinsing programs. The procedure requires only about five minutes of school time each week. It is inexpensive and well accepted by teachers and students.

Generally, fluoride mouthrinses are not recommended for children younger than 6 years of age. Fluoride mouthrinses are not intended for swallowing. Because many children younger than school age are not able to control their swallowing reflex, they often ingest mouthrinse. If too much fluoride is consumed while teeth are developing, a condition called dental fluorosis (white spots on the teeth) may result. Fluoride mouthrinses are also available commercially without a doctor’s prescription for daily home use.

Fluoride Dentifrices

The use of a fluoride-containing dentifrice (toothpaste) is recommended for children and adults. Regular and thorough toothbrushing with a fluoride dentifrice will provide protection against tooth decay and added protection when used together with most other forms of fluoride therapy. The use of a fluoride-containing dentifrice by children below the age of 6 should be closely supervised by an adult. Because preschool-age children are susceptible to developing dental fluorosis, only a small, pea-size portion of toothpaste should be put on their toothbrush for brushing.

Professional Application of Topical Fluorides

Dentists and dental hygienists often apply fluorides directly to the teeth. These topical fluorides are either in the form of gels, applied in mouth trays, or solutions painted directly on the teeth. Semiannual applications of these fluorides also substantially reduce dental decay.

The National Institute of Dental Research, one of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is studying other approaches and methods of fluoride use. One such possibility is the use of fluoride compounds that could provide a protective cover on the teeth for many hours, as well as ways to release fluoride gradually in the mouth. These efforts are part of a broad program to find better ways of preventing dental decay.

For more information, contact your dentist, state or local health department, or the National Institutes of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, 20892.

National Institutes of Dental Research
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892