There’s a lot of talk about fluoride and its potential to help or harm. You may have run across the term fluorosis and wondered what exactly that could be. Fluorosis is faint white lines or streaking on the teeth caused by too much fluoride.
Not Pretty, Not Painful
The reason to be concerned about mild fluorosis is only the cosmetic concern. A very mild case is only likely to be seen by a dentist during an exam. White spots on the teeth may be a sign of decay, but the white streaks of fluorosis are not a sign of decay. The teeth affected by fluorosis are not weaker and may even be stronger than normal teeth. The primary reasons people seek to prevent fluorosis are cosmetic.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The ancient Greeks talked about the golden mean—All things in moderation. There’s a lot of wisdom buried in that old concept. Fluoride is a helpful building block and tooth enamel protector. When the acids in your mouth dissolve some of the minerals out of the enamel on your teeth, fluoride helps bind those minerals back to the teeth. That, however, doesn’t mean that any excess amount of fluoride is a great idea.
When considering how much fluoride exposure an individual has, it’s important to look at all sources of fluoride. Some municipalities add fluoride to the water supply to increase oral health. Nursery water used to make formula often contains fluoride. Some areas have high natural levels of fluoride. Toothpaste swallowing or mouthwash swallowing are also behaviors that can add a considerable amount of fluoride as well.
Is it Coming?
If you’re looking at your teeth (or your kids’ teeth) and hoping they don’t develop those odd white lines, you should stop worrying. Fluorosis develops before the teeth emerge from the gums in their early stages of development. Once teeth have emerged, they cannot develop fluorosis.
If you are looking to help your children avoid fluorosis, supervise brushing carefully. Young children under 3 should use a grain of rice sized amount of toothpaste. People 3 and up should use a pea sized amount. It’s important to teach children not to swallow tooth cleaning products, toothpaste or mouthwash. With young children who cannot understand proper brushing and spitting technique, consider using a high-quality fluoride-free option for their oral care.
Remember, fluorosis is not the end of the world, but it can generally be avoided with due care.