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Understanding Fluoride

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral in land and water. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, community water fluoridation is one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Fluoride has been used to prevent tooth decay since the 1940s.

Why do I need fluoride?

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay.
It works by making the outer layer of teeth (enamel) stronger and more resistant to cavities. It is delivered in three general ways:

  • Fluoridated drinking water (naturally-occurring or supplemented)
  • In a wide range of fluoridated oral health care products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and drops or chewable tabs
  • Gels and rinses that may be professionally applied by a dentist

When consumed in drinking water, fluoride aids in the development of tooth structures. Over time, fluoridated water helps rebuild tooth enamel that is damaged by everyday acid wear from food and drink.

Topical applications, such as fluoridated toothpaste, work hand-in-hand with fluoridated water to further strengthen tooth enamel against the impacts of daily acid.

Is it safe?

Fluoride is safe when used at optimal levels. Having too much fluoride, an amount well above the Canadian optimal levels, can cause two potential effects on health:

Beyond dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis there are no other health effects related to fluoride.

Read more about fluoride and its potential health effects from Health Canada.

Does my child need fluoride?

Whether it’s in water or toothpaste, or applied during a dental visit, fluoride provides many dental benefits. It contributes to tooth formation and makes new teeth stronger, provides long-lasting protection to a child’s teeth, and children are less likely to develop dental decay if they use fluoride.

Assess the risk of tooth decay in your child with a health professional like a dentist.

If your child is at risk of decay: An adult should use a minimal amount of fluoridated toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) when brushing their teeth from birth to age three.

If your child isn’t at risk of decay: An adult should use a toothbrush moistened with water or a non-fluoridated toothpaste when brushing their teeth from birth to age three.

From age three to six, the teeth should be brushed by an adult or supervised by an adult using a small amount (the size of a green pea) of fluoridated toothpaste.

For more information on fluoride: