Nearly 60 percent of caregivers say they are more likely to give children bottled water than tap water, potentially depriving kids of fluoride that is critical to good oral health. In addition, according to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey,1 more than twice as many caregivers say bottled water is better for children’s oral health than tap water – an opinion at odds with evidence-based dentistry and more than six decades of public health experience.
Fluoride actually helps to repair (remineralize) tooth surfaces that are damaged by the acid produced by certain bacteria in the mouth, which prevents cavities from continuing to form.2 Since U.S. cities began adding fluoride to water supplies more than 65 years ago, tooth decay has decreased dramatically.3 This result led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name water fluoridation “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”4
Unfortunately, only 17 percent of parents believe that tap water is better for their children’s oral health than bottled water.1 Some bottled waters do contain fluoride but usually not in the optimal amount.5 Fluoride in the water provides decay-preventive benefits for the teeth of both children and adults, which makes it the most cost-effective way for communities to improve overall oral health.
The key to fluoride’s protective benefit is by having a little fluoride on your teeth throughout the day. Brushing teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, drinking fluoridated water and limiting frequent between-meal snacking on sugary or starchy foods will help keep most children and adults tooth decay-free.
If children don’t drink fluoridated water, Delta Dental offers these ways to get more fluoride into their diet:
- Fluoridated toothpastes, mouth rinses and/or professionally-applied gels or varnishes. These products can help strengthen teeth by hardening the outer enamel surface. With toothpaste and rinses children tend to swallow much of what they put in their mouth. So fluoride toothpaste use should start about age 2 and fluoride rinses probably not until about ages 6 or 7.
- Dietary fluoride supplements, such as tablets, drops or lozenges, which are typically available only by prescription and are intended for children typically older than 6 months living in areas without fluoridated water in their community.
- Bottled water that states on the label that it contains the right amount of fluoride.
As with other vitamins and minerals, it’s important to get enough, but not too much. When young children whose teeth are still developing under their gums (up to about age 9) get too much fluoride, their teeth may erupt with faint white lines or patches called dental fluorosis. The CDC has reported an increase in dental fluorosis over the past couple of decades. Inappropriate swallowing of toothpaste and children living in fluoridated areas that also receive fluoride supplements are believed to play a major role in this increase.
For advice on the proper amount of fluoride specifically recommended for your child, consult with your dentist. The recommendation will depend on your child’s age, how much fluoride naturally occurs in your local water and your child’s risk for tooth decay.