Fluoride is a common mineral that occurs naturally and is released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. Rivers, lakes, and even the ocean naturally contain some fluoride, but usually not enough to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride can be added to drinking water as a public health measure to reduce cavities. More than 200 million Americans receive drinking water from a community water system that adjusts fluoride levels. Decisions about adding fluoride to drinking water are made at the state or local level.
75% of a person’s fluoride intake comes from drinking water with added fluoride and from food and beverages (like soft drinks and fruit juices) made with fluoridated water. While people swallow small amounts of fluoride from toothpaste and dental products (like mouth rinses, gels, and foams), children swallow larger amounts and should be supervised during use. Children may also take doctor-prescribed supplements that include fluoride (like tablets or drops).
Fluoride is an effective way to prevent tooth decay, and it benefits both children and adults. The health benefits of fluoride are:
- Less pain and suffering from tooth decay
- Fewer and less severe cavities
- Less need to get fillings or have teeth pulled
Tooth decay is caused by certain harmful bacteria in the mouth. Every time you eat sugar and other refined carbohydrates, these bacteria produce acid that removes minerals from your tooth surfaces. Fluoride helps to retain and return the minerals to tooth surfaces, preventing cavities from forming. The fluoride you consume ends up in your saliva. Consistent, low levels of fluoride in the mouth (in the saliva and on tooth surfaces) can stop or even reverse the tooth decay process—it keeps tooth enamel strong and solid.
If you drink tap water from a community water system fluoridated at the optimal level and if you follow the instructions for using toothpaste with fluoride, you receive the right amount of fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. You should consult with a dentist or doctor about health conditions that may require additional fluoride intake.
Children should start using toothpaste with fluoride when they are 2 years old. For children younger than 2, consult first with your doctor or dentist about the use of fluoride toothpaste. CDC recommends that children under 6 use a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste and spit out the excess paste when finished.
In addition to toothpastes, other dental products such as mouth washes may contain fluoride. All fluoride-containing products are regulated as drugs by the Food and Drug Administration and will be clearly labeled with ingredients, directions for use, and warnings, if any. Fluoride-containing products are safe and effective when used as directed. Young children (less than 6 years old) should not use fluoride mouth rinse unless directed to do so by a dentist or doctor. Similarly, very young children (less than 2 years old) should only use toothpaste with fluoride if the child’s dentist or doctor recommends it.