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Fluoride: Yes or No?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is absorbed by your teeth as they are forming. It can also help prevent tooth decay by re-mineralizing and strengthening your tooth enamel. Fluoride helps reduce the chance of cavities. I often call it “vitamins for your teeth” to explain it to child patients.

Fluoride is added to most city water. Well water levels vary. Most bottled waters do not contain fluoride. If your water supply does not have fluoride, you may want to talk to your dentist about a fluoride supplement. You can also switch to a bottled water that contains fluoride or use a fluoride gel or rinse at home.

Fluoride is in toothpaste: Pediatric dentists recommend fluoride toothpaste be used for all children. Use a tiny smear for children less than 3 years old and a pea size amount for 3 years and up. Do not rinse after brushing for better fluoride effect. Prescription toothpastes with higher fluoride levels are available for those who tend to get many cavities.

In the dental office, fluoride is available as a liquid (similar to mouthwash), gel, foam, or varnish. No matter what type, it is applied directly to your teeth. For use outside the dental office, rinses and gels are available over the counter. Prescription types are also available with a prescription from your dentist. We’ll talk a bit about these later in this article.

Though you may be tempted to think “if some fluoride is good, more fluoride is better”, too much fluoride during tooth development can cause a condition called fluorosis (a pattern that looks like spots develops on the teeth). Swallowing too much fluoride at one time can cause tummy upset.

Fluoride Varnish is available at the dental office. It is applied with a small brush and hardens when saliva contacts it. It is well tolerated by infants and young children and has a prolonged therapeutic effect because it stays in contact with the teeth for several hours (if directions are followed). It is recommended to have it applied every 3 months by a dental professional starting with presence of the first tooth. Realistically, our expectation is once every 6 months –and some kids will only get it once a year because parents go with “what insurance covers” or never because they don’t take kids to a dentist until around age 4.

Fluoride foams and gels are available at the dental office. Gels are also available for home use. In the dental office, the foam or gel is placed into a disposable tray and placed over the teeth for 1 to 4 minutes (depending on the type of fluoride). You can spit or suction your mouth out afterward, but for best results, you should not eat, drink, or rinse your mouth for 30 minutes afterward. Gels for home use can be placed into a custom made tray or just brushed on your teeth. As with the ones used in the office, it is recommended that you not eat, drink, or rinse your mouth for about 30 minutes after applying the fluoride gel to your teeth.

Fluoride rinses seem to be rarely used as a fluoride treatment in the dental office these days. (When they were used, they tended to have the advantage of allowing the person to rinse their mouth after the treatment.) Off the shelf (also called over the counter) fluoride rinses have a lower level of fluoride than toothpastes. Because of the lower amount, the effect of these rinses is somewhat limited. Kids under age 6 have a limited ability to rinse and spit which could lead to too much fluoride being swallowed, so these rinses are not recommended until a child can reliably rinse and spit.

Fluoride Supplements are usually only used if your child routinely drinks water that is not fluoridated and are usually not needed until 6 months old at the earliest.

In the end, though most dentists recommend fluoride treatments, whether or not you, or your child, get them is a decision you should make with your or your child’s dentist based on each unique situation.You can learn more about  Fluoride by clicking on the word link in this sentence in order to make your informed decision!


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees children and adults at her office located at 1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. Call 440-960-1940 to reserve your seat! www.drjrobb.com           www.facebook.com/drjenniferrobb