Do you wonder if your child is getting enough fluoride to protect their teeth from cavities? With 25 percent of children experiencing their first cavity before kindergarten, it’s certainly a question worth pondering. Even the American Dental Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs (CSA) does the same, continually reviewing research to ensure their recommendations are up to date with scientific opinion. What, then, is your best strategy? First, you’ll need to ask a few more questions.
Determining whether your child may need supplemental fluoride (in the form of pills, lozenges or liquid) generally hinges on the answers to these three key questions:
What is the source of your child’s drinking water, and how much of it are they consuming on a daily basis?
How old is the child?
What other sources of fluoride might they be exposed to?
What Is the Source of Your Child’s Drinking Water, and How Much of It Are They Consuming on a Daily Basis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are roughly 196 million Americans who receive their drinking water from an “optimally fluoridated” community water system.
This means the level of fluoride in these community water supplies is between 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter; levels the CDC suggests are “highly unlikely” to result in an over-absorption of fluoride, and sufficient enough to aid in the prevention of decay.
To get a feel for the levels of fluoride in your local water supply, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website and access a water quality report (called Consumer Confidence Reports) for your community. Alternately, you can check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) fluoridation Website, "My Water's Fluoride" for similar information.
If your family obtains its water from a water-well system, you’ll need to have the water tested independently to discover your system’s fluoride level. Also, keep in mind that if your family generally drinks bottled water, your children are only getting trace amounts of fluoride from that specific source.
Because our teeth erupt and mature in stages that closely parallel our age, too much or too little fluoride during these stages can cause problems.
For example, fluorosis, which is caused by the consumption of (or, application of) too much fluoride at too early an age, can result in white, blotchy teeth. In contrast, with too little fluoride, the possibility of increased cavities becomes the concern. It’s all about balance. The American Dental Association’s “Facts About Fluoride” article covers this concept in much detail, and even includes a Fluoride Supplement Dosage Schedule, that illustrates the levels a child should have based on their age, from birth through age sixteen.
What Other Sources of Fluoride Might They Be Exposed To?
For instance, a child in a home where only bottled water is consumed may actually end up getting an adequate dose of fluoride if they drink a lot from a fountain at school, or from the tap at a neighbor’s house. Also, certain foods contain levels of fluoride due to processing or pesticide residues, and certain environmental exposures may add to fluoride exposure.
As you can see, determining the level of fluoride appropriate for your child ultimately comes down to specifics related to your child, the community in which you live, and your own personal belief surrounding fluoride supplementation. Your best ally in this quest is your child’s dentist, so speak with them throughout your child’s development for the answers to all of your fluoride related questions!