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How Excessive Levels of Fluoride Can Cause Tooth Discoloration

Mar 09, 2023
How Excessive Levels of Fluoride Can Cause Tooth Discoloration
Fluoride — also known as nature’s cavity fighter — can significantly reduce the risk of tooth decay for every family member. But when kids get too much fluoride, it can discolor their developing teeth. Here’s what you should know.

Dental decay is a common problem at every age: More than two in five children (40%) have had cavities, as have nearly three in five adolescents (60%) and over nine in 10 adults (90%). 

Getting a daily dose of fluoride through drinking water and toothpaste is a great way to help every family member reduce their risk of tooth decay and maintain optimal oral health. But when growing children get more fluoride than they need, it can change the appearance of their developing teeth.

As experienced family dentists who treat patients of all ages at Hazel Dell Dentistry in Carmel, Indiana, Dr. Suzette Nikas and Dr. Chelsea Laucher want you to know that although fluoride is beneficial for your teeth, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. 

Our team discusses how excess fluoride can cause dental fluorosis in developing teeth below the gumline and explains how to reduce your child’s chances of experiencing it.

Fluoride protects dental health

Fluoride — known to dental professionals as nature’s cavity fighter — is an abundant mineral that’s found throughout the environment, including in soil, rock, and water. 

When you apply small amounts of this natural mineral to your teeth through fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash or when you take it into your body via fluoridated tap water, it actively fortifies and protects your enamel to keep your teeth strong and healthy.

When fluoride mixes with your saliva, it: 

  • Fights off the acid-producing bacteria that form plaque 
  • Bonds with any weakened areas of enamel it encounters 
  • Replenishes lost calcium and phosphate in your enamel 
  • Effectively targets and reverses spots of early tooth decay 
  • Leaves your teeth stronger and more resistant to decay

Fluoride is so beneficial for your oral health that municipalities across the United States have been adding it to household tap water for decades. Community water fluoridation — which the CDC named as one of the Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century — helps reduce tooth decay in children and adults by about 25%

The trouble with excess fluoride 

Fluoride protects teeth while developing (below the gum line) and after they’ve emerged above the gums. Suppose excess fluoride is consumed by a young child when their adult teeth are still below the gumline. In that case, those developing teeth can develop visible changes to their enamel surface, known as dental fluorosis. 

Specifically, dental fluorosis occurs when children get too much fluoride from any source (tap water, toothpaste), over long periods during adult tooth development. The condition causes faint white lines or streaks across the enamel surface that are usually so subtle only a dentist would notice them. 

Fluorosis isn’t a disease; it can’t affect teeth already above the gumline and doesn’t undermine your child’s oral health. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, fluorosis does not affect tooth function and may make teeth more resistant to decay.

How to prevent dental fluorosis

A child’s chances of developing fluorosis exist in their primary teeth-forming years or from birth until they’re about eight years old. Older kids, adolescents, and adults aren’t at risk of developing fluorosis. To protect your young child against fluorosis, you can:

  • Breastfeed your infant until they’re at least 12 months old, if possible
  • If your baby is formula fed, ask your pediatrician to recommend the best type
  • Gently brush your baby’s teeth twice a day when they start coming in
  • Help your toddler brush their teeth using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
  • Supervise your preschooler or kindergartener as they brush their teeth
  • Teach your child how to swish with water and spit out toothpaste
  • Don’t give kids fluoridated mouthwash unless a dentist recommends it

Most cases of fluorosis are caused by swallowing toothpaste. Simply supervising your young child as they brush — making sure they use a small amount of toothpaste and spit it out when they’re done — is one of the most effective steps you can take to prevent fluorosis. 

Benefits of fluoridated toothpaste 

Everyone can significantly reduce their cavity risk with regular exposure to small amounts of fluoride, usually attained by drinking fluoridated tap water and using fluoridated toothpaste daily. Ensuring your young child uses a small amount of toothpaste and spits it out is often all it takes to minimize their chances of developing fluorosis.

Family dentists recommend that all older children and adults use fluoridated toothpaste for twice-daily brushing because doing so has several major oral health benefits, including: 

  • Builds stronger tooth enamel
  • Stops early cavity formation
  • Mends areas of early decay
  • Reduces oral bacteria growth 
  • Slows mineral loss from enamel

If you have questions about fluoride, concerns about fluorosis, or simply want tips on how to help your young child brush properly, we’ve got you covered. Call our expert team at Hazel Dell Dentistry in Carmel, Indiana, today, or click online to book an appointment any time.