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Is fluoride good for children’s teeth?

When you hear the word fluoride, you probably think about toothpaste. But what exactly is fluoride? What does it do? And as the parent of a little one, is fluoride good for children’s teeth?

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral. In addition to rocks, soil and water, fluoride is also found naturally in our bones and teeth.

Why fluoride is good for children’s teeth

Fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter. Science has shown that fluoride makes the surface of teeth stronger, and that helps prevent tooth decay.

The outer layer of teeth (enamel) is like a shield that protects teeth from acids that cause cavities. (These acids are produced when bacteria in your child’s mouth combines with the sugars they eat and drink.) Fluoride helps build up that outer shield. Even more amazingly, fluoride helps repair parts of the shield that may have been damaged. It also prevents the growth of bacteria that can cause cavities. For all these reasons, using fluoride is a powerful way to prevent tooth decay.

“Fluoride has consistently been proven effective at preventing tooth decay, which, when left untreated, can lead to pain, loss of teeth and serious infections.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

Where can you get fluoride to protect your child’s teeth?


Most toothpaste contains fluoride. (“With fluoride” is usually printed right on the tube, but you can also check the list of ingredients.) Brushing your child’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste is an important way you can keep them healthy and smiling. You can use toothpaste with fluoride in it as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. For infants, start with just a tiny smear of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. Once your child is three, you can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.

fluoride is good for children's teeth, and it's important to use the right amount of fluoride toothpaste for their age

Drinking Water

Most tap water has fluoride in it, whether naturally occurring or added by your town, city or tribe’s local public authority. About half of Arizona has fluoridated water. (Click here to find out if your community has fluoridated water.) Fluoride can also be found in some, but not all bottled water.

In addition to getting the benefits of fluoride, having your child drink more tap water instead of juice, soda, chocolate milk and other sugary drinks is another way to help prevent cavities.

sugar infographic preview

INFOGRAPHIC: What Causes Cavities

Learn more about what causes cavities and how you can talk to your child about “anytime” foods, which are healthy and good for their teeth, and “sometime” foods, which are usually sugary and are only for once in a while.

Your Dentist

Talk to your child’s dentist or oral health provider about how much fluoride your child is getting. (Click here if you need help finding a dentist for your child in your Arizona community.) They may apply a fluoride varnish to protect your child’s teeth or recommend fluoride supplements. Only use supplements if your child’s dentist prescribes it.

Is fluoride safe for my child?

Fluoride has been found to be safe and healthy for your whole family. The amount of fluoride in water is closely monitored and kept at safe levels. According to the American Dental Association:

“Seventy years of research, thousands of studies and the experience of more than 210 million Americans tell us that water fluoridation is effective in preventing cavities and is safe for children and adults.”

Fluoride toothpaste is safe and effective, too, but it’s not meant to be swallowed. Swallowing some on occasion isn’t a big concern, but you need to brush your child’s teeth for them anyway — they’re not able to get their own teeth properly cleaned until age 8 or so — so use the right amount for their age and teach them to spit.

Watch this video for more tips on brushing your child’s teeth:


American Dental Association:
A Mom’s Guide to Fluoride

American Academy of Pediatrics:
Fluoride: A Powerful Tool to Prevent Tooth Decay
Fluoride for Children: FAQs

Vince Torres is Senior Director of Children’s Health & Family Support at First Things First and has roughly twenty years of experience in clinical and community oral health practices. He previously managed the Office of Oral Health for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and taught community oral health at Fortis College in Phoenix, Arizona. Vince holds a Master of Healthcare Innovation from Arizona State University and a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene from the University of New Mexico.

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