Do you remember doing fluoride rinses in elementary school? Well, all that swishing really did make a difference

Studies have shown that supervised fluoride treatments result in a 27% reduction in decayed, missing, and filled tooth surfaces in the permanent teeth of children.

Here are some of the most frequent questions families ask when considering fluoride treatment for their kids.

How does fluoride treatment protect my child’s teeth?

Fluoride is not a synthetic substance. It is, in fact, a naturally occurring mineral. 

Fluoride helps the teeth reabsorb calcium and phosphate to repair weak tooth enamel. It also bonds with teeth to make them less vulnerable to bacteria and cavities. 

Think of it like a protective coating over the chewing surfaces of teeth, but not as long lasting as dental sealants.

Isn’t the fluoride in toothpaste and tap water enough?

Most tap water in America contains small amounts of fluoride to reduce tooth decay. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that adding fluoride to tap water has reduced tooth decay by about 25%.

Professional fluoride treatments administered by pediatric dentists contain a higher concentration of fluoride. The dentist or hygienist will apply the solution (gel, foam, or varnish) directly to the child’s teeth. 

Fluoride treatment at the dentist is safe because it’s applied directly to the teeth, so very little of it ends up elsewhere in the mouth to swallow by accident. Especially compared to a mouth swishing method of fluoride like you’d get at the grocery store.

Not to knock that method, since regular fluoride use can go a long way toward preventing cavities in kids.

Is fluoride safe for children?

You may have heard other parents sharing concerns about the impact of high doses of fluoride on brain development. However, the current amounts of fluoride used in community drinking water (0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water) to help prevent tooth decay is very low risk.

Possible side effects of extreme levels of fluoride use include tooth discoloration, allergies, and skin irritation. 

Tooth discoloration, also known as fluorosis, appears as white streaks on the teeth. Fluorosis happens when a child ingests too much fluoride while their baby and adult teeth are developing under the gums (birth to 8 years old).

The following recommendations greatly reduce the risk of overexposure to fluoride:

  • Caregivers should be the ones brushing children’s teeth with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste to reduce decay and minimize the risk of fluorosis (tooth discoloration). 
  • For children under 3 years of age, use no more than a smear or rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. 
  • For children aged 3–6, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Always supervise a child’s brushing to ensure they use the right amount of toothpaste, and try to get them to spit out most of it if they can.
  • Children under 6 years old should not use at-home fluoride rinses, such as mouthwash, since they may swallow too much fluoride.

How often should my child receive fluoride treatments?

Both the CDC and the ADA (American Dentistry Association) recommend frequent exposure to small amounts of fluoride every day in order to reduce the risk of dental cavities.

For most people, this means drinking tap water and brushing teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. 

For children who may be at a higher risk of cavities, fluoride treatments can prevent decay, pain, and future dental infections. Pediatric dentists may offer fluoride treatments every 3–6 months, depending on a child’s risk of cavities.

To minimize any possible risks, pediatric dentists use professional fluoride varnish on children under 6 years old. Fluoride varnish is preferred for young children because they may swallow foams or gels.

Bonus: If your child is under 2, the first visit is always free!