A recent issue of the Fluoride Exposed Newsletter gives us the facts about dental fluorosis – a subject very often misrepresented by opponents of community water fluoridation.
Ever notice how words ending with “-osis” sound a bit scary? That’s because “-osis” is a suffix (from the Greek) commonly used to describe disorders or abnormal states. Tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis…no fun. Those are serious.
Dental fluorosis is one of those things that sounds scarier than it actually is… at least if you live in a country like the good old U.S. of A., where public health and environmental protection agencies and organizations have made the scary kind of dental fluorosis (severe dental fluorosis) exceedingly rare.
Dental fluorosis is a little like blood pressure. When it’s low, you’re good – in fact, mild dental fluorosis can protect your teeth from cavities. Moderate dental fluorosis describes the appearance of tooth enamel when kids get exposed to a bit too much fluoride. Changes range from barely visible white spots or streaks (in most cases) to white spots that are a cosmetic concern. Severe forms involve staining and pitting. These severe forms of fluorosis are super rare in the U.S. – because we have those protections we mentioned. In the States, we make sure fluoride isn’t too low or too high in drinking water. It’s only in regions such as rural India, China, and the African Rift Valley, where severe dental fluorosis commonly reaches an actual disease state and affects tooth health and function. But in the U.S., fluorosis is one of those things that’s not as scary as it sounds.
As you may already know, fluoride gets into your tooth enamel during the remineralization process and forms a super compound called fluoroapatite that resists decay. For this reason, our dentists want us to get fluoride, ideally through drinking water and fluoride toothpaste. Or if you’re in a community without fluoridated water, there are dental treatments and dietary supplements you can get.
But if a child who’s still developing teeth gets too much fluoride, dental fluorosis can occur while the teeth are still forming under the gums. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004) tells us that less than one-quarter of persons aged 6-49 in the United States had some form of dental fluorosis.
They even made a chart that shows the severity level of those affected:
Note: One interesting factoid: In this study, the rate of fluorosis for teenagers aged 12-15 was forty percent! That’s significantly higher than the rate for all age groups taken together. It’s a data point we’ll be keeping an eye on in future studies.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the mild and moderate forms of dental fluorosis we have in the U.S. do not negatively affect the health of your teeth. It’s actually even correlated with some good things. For example, rates of dental fluorosis are higher in kids whose teeth are more resistant to tooth decay. Makes sense, right?
That said, we can make sure a child’s amount of fluoride is “just right” – enough to provide cavity protection, but not enough to cause visible changes in the tooth enamel.
5 ways to prevent kiddos from ingesting too much fluoride:
- Don’t give kids fluoride supplements if your drinking water is already at or above the recommended fluoride concentration of 0.7 mg/L. You can find out if your water system fluoridates and at what level from this cool site from the CDC: https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/Default/Default.aspx. Or call your water utility provider.
- If your drinking water contains greater than 2 mg/L of fluoride, children 8 years and younger should use an alternative source of drinking water. A little less than 1% of Americans on public water systems have fluoride above this level.
- If you have well water, have it tested for fluoride levels, and again, use an alternative source for kids if fluoride is more than 2 mg/L. Use an alternative source for everyone in the family if it tests at or above 4 mg/L.
- Use only a rice-grain-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush kids’ teeth if they’re younger than 3.
- For kids who are 3-6 years old, use a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste, and supervise these preschool kids when they brush so they don’t swallow too much fluoride toothpaste.
So that’s it! Dental Fluorosis: it’s a scary name, but not a big worry in the U.S.
Whew! One less “-osis” to freak out about!
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