Fluoride: Toothpaste vs. Water

Author: Bonnie Lott, RDH

Fluoride is a naturally occuring element that is found in oceans and groundwater. For over 70 years it has been added to public water supplies at adjusted levels to prevent tooth decay, and is considered safe and effective, reducing decay in adults and children by at least 25%!

We ALL need fluoride to protect teeth, it’s not just for kids! Enamel is the outer layer of your teeth that is vulnerable to decay from acids in our diet. Anytime you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down by the naturally occuring bacteria in your mouth, and turned into acid. This acid will then start to break down the enamel until a cavity is formed. Brushing and flossing daily will help to control this process, but fluoride is needed topically (in toothpaste and mouthwash) to remineralize enamel. Topical fluoride is important for all ages, to protect the teeth we have. If your young child is still unable to spit out toothpaste, it is recommended to use fluoridated toothpaste, but only a small smear (the size of a grain of rice), reserving a “pea size drop” for older children.

What about teeth that are still forming in babies and young children? This is where water fluoridation comes in! Babies start to develop teeth in the womb as early as 6 weeks and future permanent teeth start to form as early as 20 weeks! Since babies recieve their nutrients from their mother, it is important for pregnant women and nursing mothers to drink plenty of fluoridated water in order to help baby form strong, healthy enamel for a lifetime. Children still forming teeth (usually until age 12-13) also need fluoride in their drinking water until all adult teeth are fully formed.

Buyer beware! If your main source of water comes from a bottle, beware! Did you know that most bottled water does not contain fluoride?! Although this may be fine for adults, children still need ingestible fluoride. Companies are required to label their products whenever things are added, and this includes fluoride. If you are unsure if your bottled water has fluoride, just read the label. Don’t purchase water for your children with a cute chartacter on the label thinking that it is fluoridated because it is marketed for children, always check to be sure.

Most areas have publicly fluoridated water, and simply drinking tap water is sufficient for developing enamel and use of daily toothpaste with fluoride for all ages to protect teeth. If you don’t like the taste of your public water and you use a filter, or a water dispenser on your fridge, be advised that both methods of filtration are perfectly fine and will not alter your fluoride content. Homes in rural areas sometimes receive water from a private well. Although fluoride does occur naturally, most areas do not have an optimal level and will need supplementing. If you are unsure if your tap water has fluoride, contact your local health department or water company. Spring Lake Dental Group in coordination with the state offering free water testing if you have well water! Ask any of our staff members and we can provide you with a test kit.

In review, remember, ingested fluoride in water is necessary for babies, children developing teeth, and pregnant or nursing mothers. Everyone else needs topical fluoride in toothpaste and mouthrinse, as well as a twice yearly professional application by your dentist or hygienist.