Brushing up on fluoride for kids and adults

What are the benefits of fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can help prevent tooth decay by strengthening the enamel of your teeth. It is added to most types of toothpaste, as well as many other dental products, such as mouthwash. It is also added to the public water supply in many areas to help support dental health. Dentists sometimes prescribe fluoride supplements, such as tablets, especially for people who do not get fluoride from their water.

Should children use fluoride?

Fluoride is beneficial for dental health for people of all ages. As of 2014, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend using fluoride toothpaste beginning with a child’s first tooth. This will help prevent cavities, which is important for your child’s overall health and development.

Can fluoride be poisonous?

Fluoride is safe when used properly, and swallowing small amounts is not harmful.

Swallowing too much fluoride at once can irritate your stomach.

Regularly swallowing too much fluoride for a long time—such as having too much fluoride in your well water for several years—can lead to a condition called fluorosis. Dental fluorosis develops in children before their baby or adult teeth are fully formed, and causes streaks or spots on the teeth. It is usually not harmful to overall health. Skeletal fluorosis, which affects the bones, is not common in the United States.

A smear of toothpaste and a pea-sized amount
American Dental Association photo showing a smear of toothpaste for children under 3 years old (left) and a pea-sized amount for children 3-6 years (right).

How can I use fluoride safely?

For young children, follow the American Dental Association’s guidelines for tooth brushing:

  • For children up to 3 years old, use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste—about the size of a grain of rice.
  • For children age 3 to 6, use a pea-sized amount
  • Watch young children when they brush to make sure they spit out rather than swallow the toothpaste.

Store toothpaste and other dental products up high, out of the reach of young children. Keep them separate from medications and food to prevent accidental poisonings.

When using dental products, carefully follow the directions from your dentist or on the product label.

What about training toothpaste?

While some companies still make training toothpaste or other fluoride-free toothpaste for young children, the American Dental Association strongly recommends using small amounts of fluoride toothpaste as described above. Fluoride-free toothpaste will not help prevent cavities. Using a smear amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth is safe, even if your child accidentally swallows the toothpaste.

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