Fluoride: To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

There is a wide range of information and opinions on whether or not we need to supplement our water with fluoride. Here are some basic facts to help you decide what is best for you and your family.

Q: What is fluoride,and what does it do for teeth?

A: Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral, which has proven to protect teeth against tooth decay.

Q: How does fluoride work to prevent tooth decay?

A: Bacteria in plaque ferment sugar and other refined carbohydrates and produce acid. The acid causes demineralization of teeth, resulting in cavities. Fluoride can stop and sometimes reverse this demineralization process. Ingested fluoride, present in the supply of drinking water or as fluoride supplements, is incorporated in the enamel of teeth and strengthens them as they develop. Topical fluoride, in toothpastes and mouth rinses, works by leaving a coating on the surface of teeth, which can inhibit the demineralization process.

Q: What are good sources of fluoride?

A: Fluoride is added to the water supply of many communities at a recommended optimal amount of 0.7 milligrams per liter. Fluoride is also added to toothpastes and mouth rinses. Concentrated fluoride gel is available for topical application at your dental clinic. 

Q: Is the water in Beijing fluoridated?

A: The water in Beijing has not been fluoridated. If there is any naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply, it is below the optimal amount to offer protection against dental decay. Most of the bottled water available is also un-fluoridated.

Q: What can I do to improve my family’s dental health without fluoridated water? Are there supplements I could take?

A: Fluoride supplements can be used for children and need to be prescribed by a dentist or doctor. The dosage depends on your child’s age, and you should follow your dentist’s instructions very carefully. Fluoride supplements are not available in China, so you may want to ask your dentist in your home country to assist you.

Q: What do I do if I dont have access to fluoride supplements?

A: Using toothpaste that contains fluoride and fluoride mouth rinses are good ways to reduce the possibility of tooth decay.

Q: Which toothpaste should I use?

A: It is important to always use age-appropriate toothpaste. Children under the age of 6 do not have the muscle control to rinse adequately and will swallow some toothpaste when they brush. Since too much ingested fluoride during the development of teeth can cause pitting and mottling of the enamel, the fluoride content of toothpastes for younger children is lower than that of older children and adults.

Using a fluoride mouth rinse (available at some supermarkets) also offers some protection. Again, this is more suited to children 8 years and older who are able to rinse properly without swallowing the mouth rinse.

You can also ask your dentist to apply a topical fluoride gel to your child’s teeth at each checkup.

Q: Is fluoride safe?

A: The main side effect of prolonged excessive fluoride intake in children under the age of 8 is mottling or pitting of the enamel. If consumed within optimal levels, evidence-based research over the past 60 years has shown that those living in an area with fluoridated water have a much lower incidence of tooth decay compared to similar communities without fluoridated water supplies.

Local and central governments and health authorities of most countries regularly monitor for possible adverse effects of fluoride supplementation.