It is well known that fluoride, an element found in most water sources, has numerous dental benefits. It is essential to proper oral care. Fluoride can strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay by keeping the acid produced by the bacteria in plaque from dissolving the enamel of our teeth. It cannot restore teeth with cavities, but it can prevent cavities, and it also reverses the early stages of tooth decay by allowing tooth enamel to repair, or remineralize, itself. Fluoridated water, toothpaste, mouthwash, and supplement pills are all sources of fluoride.
Proper fluoride intake is an important part of a well-rounded dental health regimen. Infants and young children don’t require as much, however, when carefully monitored, a child’s intake of fluoride is still a beneficial and necessary part of their oral care.
Fluoride Intake for Infants
Infants require the least amount of fluoride of any age group. Fluoride supplements, which are usually prescribed when children live in an area without fluoridated water, are not necessary for infants. For children under six months of age, the water used to prepare a baby’s formula provides sufficient fluoride. Baby formula generally contains fluoride already, with milk-based formulas containing less fluoride than soy-based formulas. Because of this, parents have the option of supplementing the level of fluoride contained in baby formula by preparing their child’s formula with tap water or fluoridated bottled water. If they want to limit their child’s fluoride intake, they can use non-fluoridated bottled water.
Some parents also choose to breastfeed as a way to limit fluoride intake. It should be noted, however, that breast milk contains only very small trace amounts of fluoride, and a breast milk fed baby receives virtually no fluoride exposure. Parents are advised to consult with a dentist to determine how to ensure their infants receive the right amount of fluoride.
When baby teeth begin appearing, parents can brush their child’s teeth with an infant toothbrush using water and a tiny smear of toothpaste. Children’s teeth should be brushed this way until around age two.
Fluoride Intake for Young Children
After the age of two, children begin brushing their own teeth, thus regularly ingesting fluoride in their toothpaste . Past this age, most of their fluoride intake comes from water, so children should only use a small amount of toothpaste when they brush. A pea-sized amount is more than sufficient, and children should always use a toothpaste that carries the ADA’s seal of approval.
Under the age of six, children should not use mouth wash that contains fluoride. Younger children have a tendency to swallow too much toothpaste while brushing, and if they use mouthwash, there is a high likelihood of them swallowing that as well. Parents should supervise young children when they are brushing their teeth to ensure they are not swallowing their toothpaste. It is around this age when, if a child lives in an area without a fluoridated water supply, a dentist might prescribe fluoride supplements to build their fluoride intake beyond toothpaste.
Fluoride is a pivotal part of maintaining proper dental health. While fluoride intake needs to be carefully monitored in infants and young children to avoid overexposure, parents should not be deterred from recognizing the benefits. Speaking with a dentist or a pediatric dentist is an excellent way to learn more about caring for children’s teeth, and obtaining more information about fluoride needs.