Water Fluoridation: One of the Greatest Public Health Achievements

Posted on August 27, 2013 in General oral health

Since U.S. cities began adding fluoride to water supplies more than 65 years ago, tooth decay has decreased dramatically. This result led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to name water fluoridation as one of the Ten Great Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century.

Though many areas in the U.S. fluoridate their water supplies, not all do. If your community is part of the latter group and you have children, talk with your dentist to see if your children would benefit from fluoride drops.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

As the saying goes, yes, you can have too much of a good thing. For children, that's true even when it comes to fluoride. When kids ingest too much fluoride while their permanent teeth are developing underneath the gums, it can lead to a condition called dental fluorosis.

In most cases, this results in faint white spots or streaks on the crowns of one or more permanent teeth. This is purely a cosmetic condition and usually is barely noticeable. In a very small number of children, the spots can be yellow or brownish discolorations (moderate or severe fluorosis).

Fortunately, the amount of fluoride in community water supplies isn’t enough to cause moderate or severe fluorosis. However, if combined with the fluoride toothpaste that small children tend to swallow when learning to brush their teeth, it could be. Simple precautions can eliminate this problem. Kids younger than 2 have poor swallowing reflexes and don't typically understand that toothpaste or mouthwash needs to be spit into the sink.

Fluoride toothpaste use should start around age 2, and fluoride rinses should wait until 6 or 7. For young children, make sure that there is only a small dab of toothpaste on the brush and that the child spits out the excess toothpaste. Remember, fluorosis can only occur while the teeth are still developing under the gums.

Once all permanent teeth have erupted, usually by age 12, fluorosis is no longer a concern.

What do you do to keep your child's teeth cavity-free? Let us know in the comments!