Children and fluoride

Fluoride is a chemical that helps prevent tooth decay and dental cavities. It is added to local water supplies, toothpastes, and other mouth care products. Most communities in the United States have fluoride added to their water supply. Studies show a reduction of up to 50% in tooth decay in children if fluoride is added to a community's water supply.1To find out how much fluoride is in your drinking water, call your local water company or the state health department.

If you have your own well, have the state health department check your water to find out if your family needs fluoride from other sources. You may also need to provide fluoride to your children if you use bottled water for cooking or drinking.

Ask your dentist whether your children need fluoride treatments. If your children need fluoride, your dentist will recommend additional sources of fluoride. Research shows that fluoride gels, toothpastes, and varnishes reduce tooth decay in children and teens.2, 3, 4


Too much fluoride swallowed during the early childhood years may cause white, brown, or black spots or streaks on the outside of the teeth (fluorosis). This may also cause the tooth enamel to become rough.

  • Fluorosis develops during the first 8 years of childhood while the outer enamel layer of the teeth is still growing.
  • Fluorosis is not harmful to your general health. In rare, severe cases of stains caused by too much fluoride, a dentist may bleach the teeth to remove stains or may bond resin fillings onto the tooth to cover stains.

Can fluoride be dangerous?

  • Fluoride is safe in the amounts provided in water supplies but can be toxic in large amounts. Toxic levels depend on your child's weight. A lethal dose of fluoride for a 3-year-old child is 500 mg and is even less for a younger child or infant. Keep all products containing fluoride, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, away from children. If you think your child may have swallowed too much fluoride, call your local poison control center or the National Poison Control Hotline right away at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Studies show that normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and in oral health products certified by the American Dental Association are safe for children and adults.1


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001). Recommendations for using fluoride to prevent and control dental caries in the United States. MMWR, 50(RR-14): 1–42.
  2. Marinho VCC, et al. (2002). Fluoride gels for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).
  3. Marinho VCC, et al. (2002). Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).
  4. Marinho VCC, et al. (2003). Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).

Last Updated: April 23, 2009

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