Is It Advisable to Give Fluoride to Children?

Specialists recommend giving fluoride to children in certain situations and as needed. Consultation with a pediatric dentist is key.
Is It Advisable to Give Fluoride to Children?
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 12 May, 2023

In order to have healthy and shiny teeth, you may be wondering if it’s advisable to give fluoride to children. The use of this element in the oral cavity is quite common, but you may be worried about not knowing how to use it, if it’s safe in children, or if it is really necessary.

In this article, we’ll clarify those doubts that may arise in relation to the use of fluorides in children’s mouths. Understanding the importance of this mineral in the prevention of cavities and knowing how to dose it will help your child’s oral well-being. We tell you what you need to know in detail.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural chemical element that’s present in water, air, and soil. It can also be found in small amounts in some foods, such as cabbage, spinach, grapes, oily fish, chicken, wheat, rice, and black tea.

In dentistry, this mineral is combined with other chemical substances and used in the form of gels, pastes, or rinses. In this way, its benefits in the mouth are exploited, as it’s highly effective in the prevention of caries. Studies refer to different mechanisms of action:

  • It combines with enamel minerals, making them stronger and more resistant to acids produced by bacteria.
  • It favors the remineralization of dental tissues.
  • It hinders the metabolism and proliferation of bacteria, which decreases the production of acids.

Fluoride and children’s teeth

Dental cavities are one of the most frequent diseases in childhood. They represent the destruction of the hard tissues of the tooth as a consequence of acids produced by bacteria in the mouth when metabolizing carbohydrates in the diet. Teeth have two ways of benefiting from the action of fluoride:

  1. Before erupting: Fluoride reaches the dental pieces systemically, that is, through the ingestion of certain products containing the micronutrient.
  2. After eruption: The mineral arrives topically and is applied directly to the oral cavity.
An Asian toddler brushing her teeth and smiling.
The action of fluoride is valuable both before and after tooth eruption. Therefore, it’s important that children receive adequate doses of the mineral during infancy.

Systemic fluoride in children

Systemic fluoride action occurs through food or water intake. The mineral is digested, passes into the blood, and is distributed to the different tissues of the body. It’s mainly deposited in bones and teeth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the optimum safe concentration of fluoride in drinking water is 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Higher levels are toxic and can cause fluorosis. On the contrary, when concentrations are lower, the pediatric dentist may indicate the use of supplements in drops or tablets in patients with a high risk of cavities.

When is it advisable to give fluoride to children?

Supplementation is only necessary for children who don’t receive enough fluoride from other sources and have been diagnosed with a high risk of cavities. These are some of the situations that may lead a dentist to recommend the use of fluoride drops or tablets in childhood:

  • Active cavities at early ages
  • Abnormalities in the hard tissues of the teeth
  • Impediments to proper oral hygiene
  • Children who are at special risk if they develop caries: For example, due to heart disease, hemophilia, or immunity problems

Scientific literature considers, as a first option, improvements in the quality of toothbrushing or using a higher concentration of fluoride toothpaste. So, unless your pediatric dentist indicates otherwise, it’s not good to give fluoride to children in the form of supplements.

Topical fluoride in children

When we talk about topical fluoride, we refer to the direct application of products containing the mineral on the teeth. This includes toothpastes, mouthwashes, and varnishes and gels used by dentists. Let’s see when it is advisable to give this type of fluoride to your child.

Fluoride toothpastes

Fluoride toothpaste is the one commonly used at home. Children’s toothpastes have optimal and safe concentrations of fluoride for use during childhood. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics indicates that it’s best to use them from the time a child’s first tooth erupts. The amount of product to be used varies according to the age of the child:

  • Children from 0 to 3 years old: Use a spot of paste no bigger than the size of a grain of rice.
  • Children from 3 to 6 years old: The amount of paste should be equivalent to the size of a pea.
  • From 6 years of age onwards: Toothpastes with a higher concentration of fluoride are used and a pea-sized portion is applied.

Tooth brushing should be done by an adult until the child is approximately 6 to 8 years old. From that moment on, cleaning should be supervised and accompanied until adolescence. It’s important that children learn to spit out the toothpaste after brushing and not swallow it. Likewise, infants shouldn’t be allowed to suck or eat toothpaste from the tube.

A preschool-aged boy brushing his teeth.
It’s important to pay attention to the dosage of toothpaste used in children. Exposing young children to larger amounts can lead to fluorosis problems.

Fluoride mouthwash

Fluoride mouthwashes can be used as an adjunct to toothbrushing. Studies indicate that the purpose of mouth rinses is to provide frequent and relatively low concentrations of the mineral to the most susceptible sites in the mouth. There are special presentations for children with attractive colors and designs as well as pleasant flavors. However, there are several things to consider:

  • Your little one’s age and ability to spit. Mouthwashes aren’t recommended for children under 6 years of age because of the risk of ingestion.
  • Risk of cavities. If your child doesn’t have a history of caries, has a healthy diet, doesn’t wear braces, and has adequate dental hygiene, you can dispense with this supplement.

Professional fluoride

Fluoride gels and varnishes are products used by the dentist to prevent cavities, reverse cavities, or prevent cavities from getting worse. According to a review of professionally applied fluorides, both gels and varnishes are effective. For children under 6 years of age, only 2.26% fluoride varnish is recommended. This is a simple, painless, and comfortable procedure for the child.

The risks of fluoride in children

The regular and controlled use of fluoride doesn’t pose a health risk to children. Dental fluorosis is a consequence that can arise from an exaggerated exposure to the mineral during the formation of teeth. The condition is characterized by the presence of white, yellow, or brown spots on the tooth surfaces. However, it doesn’t affect tooth function or cause pain but rather alters the esthetics of the teeth.

Can I give fluoride to my child?

While it’s important to give fluoride to children, you shouldn’t look for sources other than fluoride toothpaste and drinking water. It’s always beneficial to put your child’s oral health in the hands of a professional who’s attentive to their particular needs.

The benefits of fluoride in the mouth outweigh the risks. If you use this element responsibly, your child’s mouth will benefit from its properties.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.