Dental Health and Fluoride Treatment
Are There Risks Associated With Fluoride Use?
Fluoride is safe and effective when used as directed but can be hazardous at high doses (the "toxic" dosage level varies based on an individual's weight). For this reason, it's important for parents to carefully supervise their children's use of fluoride-containing products and to keep fluoride products out of reach of children, especially children under the age of 6.
In addition, excess fluoride can cause defects in the tooth's enamel that range from barely noticeable white specks or streaks to cosmetically objectionable brown discoloration. These defects are known as fluorosis and occur when the teeth are forming -- usually in children younger than 6 years. Fluorosis, when it occurs, is usually associated with naturally occurring fluoride, such as that found in well water. If you use well water and are uncertain about the mineral (especially fluoride) content, a water sample should be tested. Although tooth staining from fluorosis cannot be removed with normal hygiene, your dentist may be able to lighten or remove these stains with professional-strength abrasives or bleaches.
Keep in mind, however, that it's very difficult to reach hazardous levels given the low levels of fluoride in home-based fluoride-containing products. Nonetheless, if you do have concerns or questions about the amount of fluoride you or your child may be receiving, talk to your child's dentist, pediatrician, or family doctor.
A few useful reminders about fluoride include:
- Store fluoride supplements away from young children.
- Avoid flavored toothpastes because these tend to encourage toothpaste to be swallowed.
- Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste on a child's toothbrush.
- Be cautious about using fluoridated toothpaste in children younger than age 6. Children younger than 6 years of age are more likely to swallow toothpaste instead of spitting it out.
I Drink Bottled Water, Am I Missing Out on the Benefits of Fluoride?
Even though there are no scientific studies to suggest that people who drink bottled water are at increased risk of tooth decay, the American Dental Association (ADA) says that such people could be missing out on the decay-preventing effects of optimally fluoridated water available from their community water source. The ADA adds that most bottled waters do not contain optimal levels of fluoride, which is 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (this is the amount that is in public water supplies, in the communities that have fluoridated water). To find out if your brand of bottled water contains any fluoride, check the label on the bottle or contact the bottle water manufacturer.
Does a Home Water Treatment System Affect the Level of Fluoride in My Drinking Water?
The amount of fluoride you receive in your drinking water depends on the type of home water treatment system used. Steam distillation systems remove 100% of fluoride content. Reverse osmosis systems remove between 65% and 95% of the fluoride. On the other hand, water softeners and charcoal/carbon filters generally do not remove fluoride. One exception: some activated carbon filters contain activated alumina that may remove over 80% of the fluoride.
If you use a home water treatment system, have your water tested at least annually to establish the fluoride level your family is receiving in the treated water. Testing is available through local and state public health departments as well as private laboratories. Also, check with the manufacturer of the product you purchased or read the information that came with the water treatment system to determine the product's effects on fluoride in your home water.