Fluorides and dental health

Most Canadians are exposed to fluorides on a daily basis, through the trace amounts that are found in almost all foods and through those that are added to some drinking water supplies to prevent tooth decay.

Fluorides are chemical compounds, which in nature are found in air, water, soil and almost all foods. Fluorides are released into the environment by weathering processes and by volcanic activity and may be released by the production of phosphate fertilizers, by aluminum smelting and by chemical manufacturing.

Health Benefits of Fluorides

The use of fluoride for the prevention of dental cavities is endorsed by over 90 national and international professional health
organizations including Health Canada, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States and the World Health Organization.

Fluorides protect tooth enamel against the acids that cause tooth decay. Many studies have shown that fluoridated drinking water greatly reduces the number of cavities in children's teeth. Fluoride is used in many communities across Canada, spanning most provinces and territories. About 40 percent of Canadians receive fluoridated water.

Considerations for Children

If children under the age of six ingest high levels of fluorides during the period of tooth formation, they can develop dental fluorosis. This condition causes white areas or brown stains to appear on the teeth, which affects the appearance of the teeth but not their function. However, excessive intakes of fluoride can cause damage to tooth enamel, resulting in tooth pain and some problems with chewing. The risk goes away once teeth are formed, at age 6 or 7. Health Canada has set labelling requirements for dental products (such as toothpaste) that contain fluoride because young children have a tendency to swallow these products.

Considerations for Adults

High levels of fluorides consumed for a very long period of time may lead to skeletal fluorosis. These levels are much higher than those to which the average Canadian is exposed daily. Skeletal fluorosis is a progressive but not life-threatening
disease in which bones increase in density and become more brittle. In mild cases, the symptoms may include pain and stiff joints. In more severe cases, the symptoms may include difficulty in moving, deformed bones and a greater risk of bone fractures.

Minimizing Your Risk

There are several steps that you can take to maintain your fluoride intake within the optimal range for attaining the dental benefits.

Never give fluoridated mouthwash or mouth rinses to children under six years of age, as they may swallow it.
Talk to your dentist before using fluoridated mouthwash.
Health Canada does not recommend the use of fluoride supplements (drops or tablets). This guideline is consistent with recommendations made by Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) and the Canadian Association of Public Health Dentistry (CAPHD).
Make sure that your children use no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on their toothbrush, and teach them not to
swallow toothpaste.
Children under six years of age should be supervised while brushing, and children under the age of three should have their teeth brushed by an adult without using any toothpaste.