More than likely, the tap water you consume has been subject to fluoridation-in other words, fluoride has been added to it. Fluoridation first became an official policy in 1951, and has been widely used since the 1960s. The goal of fluoridation is to prevent tooth decay, which is considered one of the most prevalent chronic diseases worldwide. However, since the advent of fluoridation, there have been those who have worried about its health effects-and even its political implications. In the 1950s, conspiracy theories surfaced about fluoridation from both the political right and the left, the most popular of which asserted that the practice of adding fluoride to water was a communist plot. Even today, there are those who hang onto the belief that fluoridation constitutes a government attempt at “mind control.”
There are concerns though, that stem from less political (and less paranoid) perspectives. Those concerned about fluoridation have pointed to it as a cause to everything from AIDS to bone cancer. However, extensive studies have concluded that fluoride is safe and causes no major health problems.
There, is, however, one problem that has been linked to fluoridation, and that is “dental fluoriosis.” Dental fluoriosis is a great example of the phrase “too much of a good thing.” When children-whose teeth are still developing-ingest too much fluoride, spots can appear on the tooth enamel. The spots are often white streaks or specks, but can be brown or grey in color in more severe cases. While these spots are permanent, they can be “treated” cosmetically by teeth whitening-or, in severe cases, with crowns or veneers.
Obviously, the best way to deal with fluoriosis is to prevent it by avoiding over exposure to fluoride. Here are a few things you can keep in mind if you are concerned about your child getting “too much of a good thing.”
Children often use more toothpaste than they need, so use this as an opportunity to teach moderation. A pea-sized amount of toothpaste is usually plenty. Small children also need to be shown how to properly brush, as they tend to swallow the toothpaste rather than spit it out. And while you will probably get complaints about this one, you may want to consider using minty toothpaste rather than the “yummy” kid flavors, which children tend to over use. Or, if you do buy the “double cherry bubble gum” flavor, keep it out of reach between brushing sessions, as it’s not unheard of for kids to actually eat the whole tube if they have the chance.
Avoid fluoride rinses, tablets and supplements
If you are as old as I am, you may remember getting fluoride treatments at school once a week, or chewing those pink fluoride tablets. While those products have fallen out of favor, there are still dental rinses that contain fluoride, some of which are marketed toward children. While older children, whose teeth are already fully developed, probably are not at risk of fluoriosis from using these products, very small children should avoid them. Just brushing is enough for the little ones.
So, while fluoride does not cause any real health problems-and is very likely not a communist plot-there is still something to be concerned about. The good news is that fluoriosis can probably be avoided with a little effort. And while the effects are permanent, they can be treated cosmetically. Many would say that overall benefits of fluoridation-the battle against tooth decay-offset these relatively minor side-effects.