Fluorides are compounds derived from fluorine, a natural element. Fluoride is recognized for combining with tooth enamel to strengthen it and help prevent cavities. It also stops cavities by remineralizing tooth enamel after it has been attacked by the acids produced by the bacteria in dental plaque.
Fluoride is most effective when it is added to drinking water. It acts both when teeth are forming and on the enamel surface after the teeth have come in. Water fluoridation is recommended by all organizations promoting oral health. Even a very small concentration of fluoride can significantly benefit the dental health of infants and children at an age when cavities do the most damage.
For children who lack access to fluoridated water, fluoride toothpaste is highly recommended. Some precautions are necessary when brushing, however. A small dab of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice, is enough for children under three, and the size of a small pea for children from three to six.
Make sure your child doesn't swallow fluoride toothpaste. Toothpaste for children often tastes good. Young children who swallow too much toothpaste can develop slight dental fluorosis, so it’s important to supervise children under six while they are brushing. The teeth of children under three should be brushed by an adult.
Slight fluorosis produces white stains on the child's teeth, but is not dangerous. Fluorosis does not occur in adults.
There are fluoride supplements for children at high risk of cavities and whose teeth do not get enough fluoride. Before prescribing them, your dentist will give your child a complete examination and evaluate the risk of cavities, and then determine the proper dose for your child’s needs.