Fluoride is a form of the chemical element fluorine. It is used as medicine.
Fluoride is added to public drinking water to prevent tooth decay. Children who do not drink fluorinated public water because their homes use water from a private well often take fluoride tablets to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is added to toothpaste and mouthwashes so it can be applied directly to the teeth to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is also taken by mouth for treating weakened bones (osteoporosis) and for preventing bone loss in people with rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.
How does it work?
Fluoride protects teeth from the bacteria in plaque. It also promotes new bone formation. This is different than most medicines used for weak bones (osteoporosis), which fight osteoporosis by keeping bone from being broken down.
- Preventing tooth decay, when fluoride is added to drinking water or included in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other dental products.
Possibly Effective for:
- Treating osteoporosis (bone loss). Fluoride taken by mouth continuously or cyclically (three months on, one month off) might increase bone mineral density, which is an indicator of bone strength. Fluoride seems to work better for improving bone strength in older women when combined with hormone replacement therapy. However, it’s not clear whether taking fluoride actually reduces the chance of weak bones breaking.
- Preventing bone loss in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Preventing bone loss in people with Crohn's disease (an intestinal disorder).
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Fluoride is safe for most people in the amounts added to public water supplies and used in toothpastes and mouthwashes, and applied by dentists. Low doses (up to 20 mg per day of elemental fluoride) of supplemental fluoride taken by mouth appear to be safe for most people. Higher doses are UNSAFE and can weaken bones and ligaments, and cause muscle weakness and nervous system problems. High doses of fluoride in children before their permanent teeth come through the gums can cause tooth discoloration.
Toothpaste and fluoride rinses should not be swallowed routinely, particularly by children. It’s a good idea to make sure that children under six years of age use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride-containing toothpaste, just in case they swallow some.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Fluoride seems to be safe during pregnancy and breast-feeding when taken in doses below the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 10 mg per day of elemental fluoride and when applied directly to the teeth in toothpastes and mouthwashes. But higher doses are UNSAFE and can weaken bones and ligaments, and cause muscle weakness and nervous system problems.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- To prevent tooth decay (dental caries): in the US, fluoride is added to city water to a concentration of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (ppm). To prevent dental caries in areas where the fluoride level in drinking water is less than 0.3 ppm (such as in well water), children 6 months to 3 years should receive a fluoride supplement of 0.25 mg per day; children 3 to 6 years, 0.5 mg per day; and children 6 to 16 years, 1 mg per day. For children living in areas where the fluoride level is 0.3 to 0.6 ppm, children 3 to 6 years should receive 0.25 mg per day, and children 6 to 16 years, 0.5 mg per day. No supplement is needed in areas where the fluoride in drinking water exceeds 0.6 ppm.
- For treating weak bones (osteoporosis): 15 to 20 mg per day of elemental fluoride.
The daily upper intake levels (UL) for fluoride, the highest level at which no harmful effects are expected, are 0.7 mg for infants birth through 6 months; 0.9 mg for infants 7 through 12 months; 1.3 mg for children 1 through 3 years; 2.2 mg for children 4 through 8 years and 10 mg for children older than 8 years, adults, and pregnant and breast feeding women.
Sodium fluoride contains 45% elemental fluoride. Monofluorophosphate contains 19% elemental fluoride.