Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally and is released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. Almost all water contains some fluoride, but usually not enough to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride can also be added to drinking water supplies as a public health measure for reducing cavities. Decisions about adding fluoride to drinking water are made at the state or local level.
The primary sources for fluoride intake include drinking water in fluoridated communities, toothpaste (if swallowed by young children), beverages and food processed with fluoridated water, dietary prescription supplements that include fluoride (e.g., tablets or drops), and other professional dental products (e.g., mouth rinses, gels, and foams).
In the United States, water and processed beverages (e.g., soft drinks and fruit juices) provide approximately 75% of a person’s fluoride intake.
Fluoride in the mouth (in the saliva and dental plaque) is an effective way to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride’s action in preventing tooth decay benefits both children and adults throughout their lives. The health benefits of fluoride are:
- Fewer and less severe cavities
- Less need for fillings and tooth extractions
- Less pain and suffering associated with tooth decay
Fluoride works by stopping or even reversing the tooth decay process—it keeps tooth enamel strong and solid. Tooth decay is caused by certain bacteria in the mouth. When a person eats sugar and other refined carbohydrates, these bacteria produce acid that removes minerals from the surface of the tooth. Fluoride helps to remineralize tooth surfaces and prevents cavities from forming.
If your child is among the more than 200 million Americans who receive their water from a community water system fluoridated at the optimal level and if you follow instructions for your child’s tooth brushing, your child is receiving the right amount of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.
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 regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste. CDC recommends that children under 6 use a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste, spit out the excess paste, and rinse well after brushing.
In addition to toothpastes, other dental products such as mouth washes may contain fluoride. If so, they are regulated as drugs by the FDA and will be clearly labeled regarding ingredients, directions for use, and warnings, if any. Fluoride-containing products are safe and effective when used as directed, but young children (under age 6) 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.