What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral responsible for strengthening your tooth’s outer enamel. The enamel is the protective layer that keeps bacteria, plaque and sugars that sit on the outside of your teeth from coming in. Fluoride is included in your water and toothpaste to continue to strengthen your dental enamel over time. Just like many things in life, excess amounts of even good things can be harmful. While fluoride is not a mineral that should be avoided, children ages 8 and under can be exposed to excess amounts, leading to a condition known as fluorosis.

Dental Fluorosis and Adults

Dental fluorosis will only affect children ages 8 and under, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are an adult or have a child whose teeth have already erupted from the gums, your teeth should not be affected, even if you expose your teeth to a large amount of fluoride.

Symptoms of Fluorosis

Dental fluorosis can vary starting from so mild you may feel like you need a magnifying glass to see evidence of the condition. In these cases, your child’s dentist is often the only person who will view and diagnose dental fluorosis. However, it is possible for your child to experience severe fluorosis that affects how smooth his or her teeth are. Fluorosis symptoms include:

  • Scattered white flecks on the teeth
  • White, chalk-like lines
  • Large, white spots
  • Teeth that have rough surfaces
  • Pitted surfaces on the teeth

Preventing Fluorosis

Because excess exposure to dental fluoride causes dental fluorosis, you can attempt to reverse the condition by reducing your child’s exposure to fluoride — but don’t limit it entirely. Sources of fluoride that could affect your child’s teeth include: swallowing toothpaste, drinking excess amounts of fluoridated water or using dental treatments such as mouthwash that contain fluoride. Even juices and soft drinks can be made with fluoridated water, which could affect your child’s teeth. Your dentist may ask for a sample of your water to determine if the levels of fluoride are higher than normal. Long-term exposure to very high fluorosis levels can be dangerous because fluorosis can also affect skeletal bones, causing damage. This is why you always should spit your toothpaste out instead of swallowing it.

Another step to take is to closely watch your child as he brushes and encourage him to use only a pea-sized amount when brushing. You do not have to avoid fluoride-containing toothpastes because the fluoride does help to reduce the potential for cavities. However, you can reduce the temptation to swallow the toothpaste by refraining from buying a kids’ toothpaste that has a flavor such as watermelon, strawberry or another food-type taste to it. Your child may easily confuse this toothpaste with being a real food, which can result in swallowing the toothpaste. By watching your child while he brushes, you can ensure he is spitting out all the toothpaste during a brushing session.

Treating Dental Fluorosis

Once your child experiences dental fluorosis, it cannot be reversed. However, your dentist can offer treatment options that reduce the affected appearance of your child’s teeth. Remember, however, that fluorosis won’t increase your child’s chances of getting cavities. Instead, it is more of a cosmetic concern in terms of dental conditions. Your child’s dentist may recommend tooth-whitening procedures when your child ages or even dental options that cover the tooth, such as veneers, bonding or crowns. These methods can reduce or hide changes to the surface of your child’s teeth.