It’s indisputable that fluoride has revolutionized dental care. Decades of research have overwhelming shown this natural, enamel-strengthening chemical has decreased tooth decay.
Too much fluoride, though, can cause enamel fluorosis, a permanent staining of tooth enamel. In its mildest form, the teeth develop faint whitish streaks; in more severe cases, the staining is noticeably darker and the teeth appear pitted. The teeth themselves aren’t damaged, but the unsightly staining could require cosmetic treatment. Children under age 9 (when permanent teeth enamel matures) are especially at risk of fluorosis due to over-fluoridation.
Because of fluoride’s prevalence in hygiene products and many drinking water supplies, it’s not always easy to know if your child is receiving too much. There are two areas, though, that bear watching.
First, you should limit the serving quantity of fluoride hygiene products, particularly toothpaste. Children tend to swallow rather than spit out toothpaste after brushing, so they ingest more fluoride. We recommend a small “smear” of toothpaste on the brush for children under two, and a pea-sized amount for children two to four.
The other concern is your drinking water. Three-quarters of America’s water systems add fluoride, usually to a recommended level of 0.70 PPM (parts per million). To know if your water supply adds fluoride and at what levels, you can contact your local water utility or health department, or check the Center for Disease Control’s website for their “My Water’s Fluoride” program (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp). This site will have information if your water system participates in the program.
If your area exceeds recommended levels or is at high risk for fluorosis, we recommend reducing the use of tap water in infant formula. Besides breast-feeding (human breast milk is low in fluoride), you can use either ready-to-feed formula, or mix powdered formula with water specifically labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “de-mineralized,” or “distilled.”
One thing you should not do is eliminate your use of products containing fluoride — this may increase your child’s risk of tooth decay. The consequences of decay can be serious and have a life-long effect — and far outweigh the risks of fluorosis staining.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your infant, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”