< Jan. 12, 2011 > -- If your town has fluoridated water, it may cut back on the amount of fluoride it adds, based on new federal recommendations.
For more than 65 years, U.S. water supplies have added fluoride to help prevent cavities and tooth decay. But too much fluoride can cause white spots and streaks on children’s developing teeth—a condition called fluorosis.
About two in five teens now have this spotting on their tooth enamel because of excess fluoride.
The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are recommending that the amount of fluoride in drinking water not top 0.7 mg. The current recommended fluoride range is 0.7 to 1.2 mg.
"One of water fluoridation's biggest advantages is that it benefits all residents of a community—at home, work, school, or play," says HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., MPH.
But Dr. Koh’s agency is urging the reduction in fluoride because the chemical is now found not only in water, but also in toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as fluoride supplements and fluoride applied by dentists.
According to the HHS and EPA, the new recommendation allows the maximum prevention of tooth decay through fluoridation, while reducing the possibility of children getting too much fluoride.
In the U.S., fluorosis is usually mild, seen as barely visible lacy white markings or spots on the enamel. Severe fluorosis, which causes staining and pitting of the tooth surface, is rare here. It’s more common in places like China, where the water has high levels of naturally occurring fluoride.
Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a spokesman for the American Dental Association, praised the new recommendations. "We are excited that they continue to advocate the safety and effectiveness of fluoride and its value as a public health measure in preventing dental decay," he says.
Dr. Messina notes that different areas of the country have different levels of fluoride. Some towns may not have to add any fluoride and others only a little to reach the recommended level.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.
Like adults, children should see the dentist every six months. Some dentists may schedule more frequent visits—at every three months—to build confidence in the child, or to monitor a development problem.
Here’s what you can do at home to protect your children's teeth:
• Before teeth erupt, clean gums with a clean, damp cloth.
• Brush teeth with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush. Introduce a pea-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste after age 2, or once the child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
• Prevent baby bottle tooth decay: Don't give children a bottle of milk, juice, or sweetened liquid at bedtime or when put down to nap.
• Help your children brush their own teeth until age 6.
• Avoid foods and treats that increase tooth decay, such as hard candies, fruit leather, and sweetened drinks and juice.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.