Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in many water supplies and in some foods. In Australia, most public water supplies have small amounts of fluoride added to help strengthen teeth against plaque and lower rates of tooth decay. Fluoride is also added to toothpaste and may be applied directly to teeth as a preventive measure during regular dental check-ups.
Tooth decay (dental caries) is one of the most common health problems in Australia that affects people of all ages. As well as causing pain and possible tooth loss, tooth decay also has a huge economic cost, with time taken off school and work and the cost of dental treatments to repair or extract a damaged tooth.
There is reliable evidence that adding fluoride to water supplies has lowered rates of tooth decay in communities since fluoridation was introduced. Water fluoridation has also been proven not have any adverse health effects at the levels used, although it's still important not to exceed recommended limits.
Fluoride in toothpaste
Dentists recommend that teeth should be brushed twice a day using toothpaste that contains fluoride. This helps to remove plaque that may have already formed on the teeth as well as preventing further plaque from building up.
Parents with young children under 18 months should not use toothpaste when brushing their teeth, only water. From 18 months to 6 years, children should use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride children's toothpaste and will usually need help from their parents to brush. After the age of 6, children should use a pea-sized amount of standard toothpaste, the same as adults, unless their dentist has different advice.
The National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14 found that children who brushed their teeth twice a day were less likely to have visited the dentist for a corrective treatment. Children should be taught not to swallow toothpaste, as this can sometimes lead to fluorosis or staining of the teeth.
Fluoride in drinking water
Around 89% of Australians now have access to fluoride in tap water. Some of these water supplies already contain fluoride naturally, while others have fluoride added at safe levels designed to help protect teeth against decay – between 0.6 and 1.1 milligrams per litre (mg/La).
A review of evidence by the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) found that people living in fluoridated areas had lower rates of tooth decay compared to those in non-fluoridated areas – 27% less tooth decay for adults and 26% to 44% less for children and adolescents.
Children in particular can benefit from water fluoridation programs, especially those who don't have easy access to dental care and would normally be at higher risk of tooth decay.
Fluoride may also be applied directly to the teeth by a dentist or oral hygienist during dental hygiene visits. Fluoride treatments use higher levels of fluoride than are found in toothpaste or drinking water and may only be provided by a qualified dental professional.
If you don't have access to fluoride in water, or you only drink bottled water, your dentist may advise you to brush your teeth more times per day to make sure you're getting the level of fluoride needed for optimal protection against plaque and decay.
Does fluoride have side effects?
There is no reliable evidence linking water fluoridation with health problems when fluoride is added at the safe levels used in Australia.
The only adverse outcome linked to fluoridation is mild fluorosis. This is a cosmetic issue that results in the appearance of white lines or spots on the surfaces of children's teeth. This is rare and only affects children who consume more fluoride than is recommended while their teeth are developing, such as those who swallow toothpaste.
Fluorosis only affects the appearance of teeth and not their function or general health. More severe fluorosis is not more likely to occur in fluoridated areas than non-fluoridated areas.
Talk to a dentist in Brisbane CBD
For more information about fluoride and how to protect your children's teeth against decay, make an appointment with our dentists at Face Value Dental today.
 National Health and Medical Research Council. NHMRC Public Statement 2017: Water Fluoridation and Human Health in Australia [Online] 2017 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://nhmrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/reports/fluoridation-public-statement.pdf
 Do LG & Spencer AJ (editors) 2016. Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.
 Better Health Channel. Toothbrushing - children [Online] 2018 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/toothbrushing-children
 Better Health Channel. Dental care - fluoride [Online] 2012 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dental-care-fluoride