Consuming too much fluoride while the teeth are being formed can lead to fluorosis. This condition causes white or brown discoloration or spots on the enamel, the tooth surface. The effects can range from minor color changes to a bumpy surface on the teeth. Fluorosis does not develop after teeth have erupted into the mouth.
Fluorosis is a cosmetic condition, not a disease. Often, it is so mild that only a dental professional can detect it. Most cases of fluorosis result from young children taking fluoride supplements or swallowing fluoride toothpaste when the water they drink is already fluoridated.
Other conditions may look like fluorosis. Developmental defects and problems with the skull or bones of the face can disrupt the enamel or dentin of the teeth. In addition, high fevers or trauma (such as a fall that injures a tooth) in infants or young children may discolor teeth. Young children can get cavities in their primary teeth, so any tooth discoloration should be checked at the dental office.
Adding fluoride to drinking water is one of the great preventive disease programs of the 20th century. Children should take fluoride supplements only if the water they drink does not contain enough fluoride and they are at high risk for cavities. If your child is taking fluoride supplements now, check the amount of fluoride in your water. If you are on a public water supply, call your supplier to ask about the fluoride level. You can also have your dentist check a sample of your water. Then discuss with your dentist or pediatrician whether your child needs fluoride supplements.
Some foods and drinks contain fluoride. For example, many fruit juices and soft drinks contain fluoride at levels similar to fluoridated water. Some bottled waters now have added fluoride. All of this can add up. It is important to know how much fluoride your child consumes.
Many cases of fluorosis are minor enough not to need treatment. Sometimes fluorosis occurs only on the back teeth, where it can't be seen. More serious cases and cases involving the front teeth can be treated by removing the surface-stained areas through tooth whitening or other procedures. Severe cases of fluorosis can be covered with bonding, crowns or veneers.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
211 E. Chicago Avenue, Suite 1700
Chicago, IL 60611-2637
American Dental Hygienists' Association
444 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 3400
Chicago, IL 60611