What is fluoride?

August 22, 2022

The American Dental Association calls fluoride “nature’s cavity fighter.”  Fluoride is a compound that contains fluorine, which is a natural element that can be found in water such as rivers, lakes and oceans.  Dentists agree that fluoride, if used in small amounts each day, can help prevent tooth decay. Oral health products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, gels, foams, and varnishes provide fluoride to help protect your teeth.

Now that we know what fluoride is, it is important to know how it works to protect our teeth from tooth decay.  There are two ways that fluoride protects our teeth, systemic and topical. An infant can get fluoride through foods, water, infant formula, or even fluoride drops which your dentist or your child’s doctor prescribes.  When your infant or child consumes things that have fluoride, it enters their system and makes their tooth enamel stronger before their baby or new teeth erupt, which allows them to fight tooth decay as they get older.  As our children get older and they lose all of their baby teeth the systemic fluoride remains just as important, but the topical option allows for another way to protect their teeth.  Topical options would be the toothpaste we use every morning and night (at least that what our dentist hopes).  The toothpaste must contain fluoride; this continues to help rebuild weakened tooth enamel. Parents often wonder, how much toothpaste should I use when I brush my child’s teeth? Here is the answer. For children under the age of three, you should only use a smear or rice sized amount of toothpaste. Children, three to six, should use no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.  The reason for these amounts is to prevent fluorosis of your children’s teeth, but I will save that topic for another day.

As mentioned, fluoride can be found naturally in water, however, there are areas where there is no naturally occurring fluoride, in which case cities will either elect to add fluoride or not. Approximately 75% of the U.S. population receives water that is fluoridated, meaning their cities add fluoride to their water. This is done because research has shown that adding fluoride to water will help prevent tooth decay and has lowered decay rates by over 50%. Because of this children are growing up with fewer cavities, however water fluoridation can not be their only defense against cavities, that is why toothpaste and other dental products should be used in addition. In Idaho Falls, the water naturally contains fluoride. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that there be a fluoride level of 0.7mg/L in our drinking water.  In Idaho Falls the water naturally has 0.35mg/L, which isn’t quite enough. Unfortunately the city does not fluoridate the water to make up for what is missing, which is why we must be diligent in brushing our children’s teeth, and check with our dentists to see if they recommend supplementing with fluoride.

As a young mother, I want my children to have a healthy life, and I know that what my children learn about oral hygiene is from me.  I do my very best to brush my daughters teeth, and before we started brushing with fluoridated toothpaste we gave her fluoride drops. I know that by doing this her teeth will be strong and my hope is she will never get a cavity, but she’s only two so we will see what happens down the road. If you want to learn more ask your pediatric dentist, Dr. Thomas Baker, or see the sources below for more information on fluoride.

  ~Jenna, the anonymous blogger


American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry – Parental Education Brochures (Fluoride)

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality – Fluoride

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – My Water's Fluoride

American Dental Association – Fluoridation FAQs

American Dental Association – Fluoride in Water

Guideline on Fluoride Therapy – American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

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