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NEWS | Feb. 10, 2010

Fluoride: Friend or foe?

By Capts. Shannan Feeley and Derrik Johnson 633d Dental Squadron

In today's world of sticky foods and sugary drinks, regular exposure to fluoride is more important than ever.

Fluoride is a mineral in our teeth which strengthens them and helps prevent cavities. It naturally exists in water sources and is formed from fluorine, the thirteenth most common element in the Earth's crust.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states more than one-fourth of two to five year old children and one-half of children ages 12-15 have one or more cavities. Tooth decay has also affected two-thirds of 16-19 year olds, but fluoride can help reverse this trend.

Fluoride is especially important for young children because it can help prevent and even reverse the early stages of tooth decay, or cavities, as well as contribute to increased bone density.

Tooth decay occurs when the sticky film of bacteria on teeth, known as plaque, breaks down sugars found in food. The process creates damaging acids which can dissolve the surface of teeth, eventually causing cavities.

When ingested, fluoride safeguards against decay by becoming part of the structure of developing teeth, making contact with tooth surface and preventing acid destruction. Although fluoride cannot repair cavities, it can reverse early stages of tooth decay by helping to re-mineralize tooth structure weakened by the bacteria's acid.

While fluoride is very important for the developing child, it is even more important to ensure they receive the right amount. Too much fluoride can lead to a condition called fluorosis, an unsightly discoloration of adult teeth.

One of the greatest risk factors for fluorosis in children between two and three years of age is ingesting excessive toothpaste while brushing because they cannot yet spit out their toothpaste. Parents should brush their children's teeth when they are young and monitor them even when they can perform their own oral hygiene.

Other ways to prevent excessive fluoride intake include:
· Specially formulated toothpaste made specifically for young children until child is 2 1/2 years old.
· Use only pea-sized drop of toothpaste on child's toothbrush until child is 8 years old.
· Account for all sources of fluoride available to your child before requesting supplements from your physician.
· Avoid fluoride supplements for children younger than 6 months old.
· Find out community fluoride levels before giving supplements to your child.

If you live in a community with fluoridated water and your child is drinking tap water, they are most likely receiving enough fluoride. However, if your child is living in a non-fluoridated community or drinks only bottled water or non-fluoridated water, supplements may be needed and should be given to your child once they turn 6 months old.

Many foods contain small amounts of fluoride, such as powdered concentrate infant formula, soy-based infant formula, infant dry cereals, creamed spinach and infant chicken products. Fruits, vegetables, beverages such as decaffeinated teas, white grape juice and juice drinks manufactured in fluoridated cities all contain fluoride.

Fluoride is also present in the drinking water of most major cities in the ideal amounts for the prevention of tooth decay.

To find out the fluoride levels in your city's drinking water, visit