Officials: Children may get too much fluoride

Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Health officials want to changed the recommended levels of fluoride in drinking water amid fears children are exposed to too much of the mineral. (Stock art)

Could your youngster be getting too much fluoride? U.S. health officials think some children might be. They want to change the recommended levels of fluoride in drinking water, primarily to prevent a condition called fluorosis.

Some questions and answers:

Question: What is fluorosis?

Answer: It's a dental condition that can result from consuming too much of the mineral fluoride. It mostly results in tiny white flecks or streaks on teeth. In extreme cases, it causes discoloration and pitting of the tooth enamel.

Q: Who can get it?

A: Only children younger than 8. That's when permanent teeth are developing under the gums. Once those teeth emerge, the enamel is no longer susceptible to fluorosis.

Q: Is it serious?

A: In most cases, no. The majority of cases are mild and barely noticeable. But it has become more common. An estimated 41 percent of children 12 to 15 have it. It's a cosmetic condition and can be treated with whitening or other procedures.

Q: How do you get too much fluoride?

A: Water, soft drinks and juices are the main source of fluoride in the United States, according to health officials. Some water supplies contain natural fluoride; it's added to the drinking water in many communities to prevent tooth decay. Other sources are toothpaste, mouthwashes, gels and supplements.

Q: Are there ways to prevent fluorosis?

A: Read the toothpaste label and limit the amount of toothpaste used by children younger than 6. They should only use a pea-sized amount. Watch them brush and make sure they spit out the toothpaste, not swallow it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consulting a dentist before using fluoride toothpaste for a child younger than 2.

Check the fluoride level in your water supply. Public water systems are required to provide annual reports that include fluoride levels. Check their website or the CDC's My Water's Fluoride at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp

Health officials say if the level is above 2 milligrams per liter, consider other sources of drinking water for young children. If there isn't enough, fluoride supplements might be considered.

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