What is it?
First Aid

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in some food and water sources. In small amounts, fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. It is added to most kinds of toothpaste and other dental health products, as well as to many town water supplies.

Dentists or pediatricians sometimes prescribe extra fluoride for children who do not get enough from their usual water supply (a private well, for example).

Fluoride is good for your health when used properly in dental products and when you get the right amount in your diet and water supply. It can be harmful if:

  • You swallow a lot all at once
  • Your diet and water supply contain too much for a long period of time—usually years.

What happens if you swallow too much fluoride?

If someone swallows a large amount fluoride all at once—for example, if a child eats a lot of toothpaste or a number of fluoride tablets—they may get a stomach ache or throw up. These symptoms usually happen within 30 minutes to an hour.

What happens if you regularly get too much fluoride?

Someone who swallows extra fluoride for a long period of time—for example, if your well water contains more fluoride than the recommended amount for a few years—may develop a condition called fluorosis.

  • Dental fluorosis develops in children, before their baby or adult teeth are fully formed, and can lead to white, yellow or brown spots or streaks on the teeth. This is usually not harmful to health but in some cases is noticeable enough to be embarrassing. In severe cases, it can make your teeth chip easily.
  • Skeletal fluorosis affects the bones. It can lead to bone and joint pain, and bones that are more likely to break. This condition is not common in the United States.

What should I do if someone has swallowed too much fluoride?

If someone has swallowed too much fluoride, have them drink some milk and call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

The poison center can also answer other questions you have about fluoride.

What should I do if I think I have fluorosis?

If you think you or your child is developing fluorosis, talk to your doctor or call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

How can I prevent fluoride poisoning and fluorosis?

  • Use just small amounts of fluoride toothpaste with young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association recommend using a smear of fluoride toothpaste—about the size of a grain of rice—when brushing the teeth of children up to 3 years old, starting when the first tooth comes in. Children 3 years and older can use a pea-sized amount.
  • Supervise young children while they brush to ensure they spit out rather than swallow the toothpaste.
  • Keep dental products in their original containers and store them up high out of the reach of children, in a locked cabinet if possible. Keep dental products separate from food and medication.
  • If you have a private water source, have your well water tested for fluoride every 3-5 years. The following pages provide information about what your state recommends about testing your well water, including what to test for and how often:

Last Updated: Tuesday March 13th 2018