Fluoride in drinking water may reduce the risk of dental cavities, but too much fluoride isn’t a good thing - even when it comes to dental health. Children who are exposed to too much fluoride from drinking water, toothpaste, or mouthwashes with fluoride can develop a condition known as fluoride fluorosis. This dental condition can cause permanent disfigurement of the teeth that a child will have to deal with even as an adult.


Fluoride Fluorosis: What is It?


Fluorosis occurs when a child is exposed to high levels of fluoride during the time the teeth are developing. When this happens, fluoride is incorporated into the permanent structure of the tooth enamel causing the teeth to change in appearance. In mild cases, there may be white specks or streaks on the teeth, but in extreme cases, the teeth can become mottled with discoloration and a rough, irregular texture. Severe cases are most likely to occur in areas where the water contains very high levels of fluoride. Unfortunately, once the damage is done, it’s permanent and the only way to treat the disfigurement is to cover the damaged teeth with porcelain veneers.


Fluoride fluorosis can also affect the bones leading to bone pain and arthritic type symptoms, but this requires exposure to much higher levels of fluoride exposure which is rarely seen in this country.


How to Avoid Fluoride Fluorosis


Children are only susceptible to the effects of fluorosis prior to the age of eight. After this time the teeth are fully developed and even high fluoride levels won’t disfigure the teeth, but it may have unhealthy effects – although the verdict is still out on this. To prevent fluorosis, the goal is to keep fluoride levels lower during tooth development which occurs between the ages of two months and eight years of age.


The first step is to determine how much fluoride is in your drinking water by checking with your water treatment plant. If your child’s water supply contains high levels of fluoride, it’s best to limit the amount of fluoride your child is exposed to from toothpaste. Mouthwashes containing fluoride should also be avoided.


Ask your child’s dentist if your child needs a toothpaste containing fluoride based on the fluoride levels in your drinking water. If not, choose a natural toothpaste for your child that contains no added fluoride. If you do allow your child to use a toothpaste containing fluoride, limit how much he or she uses – a pea-sized amount is sufficient. Some children love the taste of toothpaste and will put large amounts on their toothbrush and some even try to swallow it.


If fluoride levels are very high in your drinking water, you can have a reverse osmosis filter installed to remove the fluoride from the drinking water and let your child use a toothpaste containing fluoride for cavity prevention.


Fluoride Fluorosis: The Bottom Line?


A little fluoride may reduce the risk of dental caries in children, but too much can cause permanent tooth disfigurement. Be aware of how much fluoride your child is getting from drinking water and toothpastes.