Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in water, soil, and air. Almost all water contains some fluoride, but fluoride levels can vary depending on where your water comes from.
In addition, fluoride is added to many public water supplies in America. The amount added varies by area, and not all areas add fluoride.
It’s added to toothpaste and water supplies because fluoride can help to:
- prevent cavities
- strengthen weakened tooth enamel
- reverse early tooth decay
- limit the growth of oral bacteria
- slow the loss of minerals from tooth enamel
Fluoride toothpaste contains a higher concentration of fluoride than fluoridated water does, and it’s not meant to be swallowed.
There’s some debate over the safety of fluoride, including fluoride toothpaste, but the American Dental Association still recommends it for both children and adults. The key is to use it correctly.
Read on to learn more about the safest ways to use fluoride toothpaste and alternatives to fluoride.
Good oral health is important from the start. Before a baby’s teeth come in, you can help to remove bacteria by wiping their mouth with a soft cloth.
As soon as their teeth start to come in, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends switching to a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. But babies only need a very small smear of toothpaste — no more than the size of a grain of rice.
These guidelines are a 2014 update to former recommendations, which had suggested using fluoride-free toothpaste until children reach the age of 2.
To minimize the risk of swallowing, try angling your baby’s head slightly downward so that any extra toothpaste dribbles out their mouth.
If your baby or toddler does swallow some of this small amount of toothpaste, it’s okay. As long as you’re using the recommended amount of toothpaste, swallowing a little bit shouldn’t cause any problems.
If you use a larger amount and your baby or toddler swallows it, they may develop an upset stomach. This isn’t necessarily harmful, but you might want to call poison control just to be safe.
Children develop the ability to spit at around the age of 3. This means you can increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste that you put on their toothbrush.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste for children ages 3 to 6. Although it should be avoided if possible, it’s safe for your child to swallow this pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
At this age, brushing should always be a team effort. Never let your child apply toothpaste themselves or brush without supervision. According to the American Dental Association, children under age 6 are more likely to swallow toothpaste because their swallowing reflex still isn’t fully developed.
If your child occasionally swallows more than a pea-sized amount, they might have an upset stomach. If this happens, the National Capital Poison Center recommends giving them milk or other dairy because calcium binds to fluoride in the stomach.
If your child regularly swallows larger amounts of toothpaste, the excessive fluoride can damage tooth enamel and cause dental fluorosis, which causes white stains on the teeth. Their risk of damage depends on the amount of fluoride they ingest and how long they continue doing so.
Supervising children while they brush and keeping toothpaste out of reach can help to avoid this.
Fluoride toothpaste is safe for older children with fully developed spit and swallow reflexes and adults.
Just keep in mind that toothpaste isn’t designed to be swallowed. It’s normal for some to slide down your throat occasionally or to accidentally swallow some. As long as this only happens occasionally, it shouldn’t cause any problems.
But long-term exposure to excessive amounts of fluoride can lead to health issues, including an increased risk of bone fractures. This level of exposure only tends to happen when people only use well water in areas where the soil contains high levels of fluoride.
Dentists sometimes prescribe high-fluoride toothpaste to people with severe tooth decay or a high risk of cavities. These toothpastes have a higher concentration of fluoride than anything you can buy over-the-counter at your local drug store.
Like any other prescription medication, high-fluoride toothpaste should not be shared with other members of the family. If used as directed, high-fluoride toothpaste is safe for adults. Children should not use high-fluoride toothpaste.
If you’re concerned about fluoride, there are fluoride-free toothpastes available. Shop for fluoride-free toothpaste here.
Fluoride-free toothpaste will help to clean teeth, but it doesn’t protect teeth against decay the same way a fluoride toothpaste will.
If you decide to use a fluoride-free toothpaste, make sure you brush regularly and follow up with regular dental cleanings. This will help to catch any cavities or signs of decay early.
If you want to benefits of fluoride but have safety concerns, consider looking for toothpastes that have the American Dental Association’s seal of approval. In order to earn this seal, manufacturers must submit studies and other documents demonstrating both the safety and effectiveness of their product.
Fluoride toothpaste is generally safe and recommended for both children and adults. But it’s important to use it correctly, especially for babies and young children.
If you’re worried about the safety of fluoride, there are plenty of fluoride-free options available. Just make sure to pair it with a consistent brushing schedule and regular dental visits to stay on top of cavities and decay.