Fluoride is used to help prevent tooth decay. It is thought to work by strengthening the mineral composition of the tooth enamel, which in turn makes teeth more resistant to attack by bacteria in the mouth.
Fluoride is most effective when taken during childhood while teeth are developing. For best results supplements should be used continuously from age 6 to 16. Supplements are available by prescription only and should be used only by children living in communities where drinking water is not fluoridated.
It is possible to get too much fluoride and if this occurs, a variety of problems include the staining of teeth can occur. The use of fluoride supplements has a history of controversy similar to that associated with the fluoridation of community drinking water supplies.
With increased fluoridation of drinking water and the availability of fluoride toothpastes, the need for fluoride supplements has decreased. Still, in adults and children who are at high risk for dental decay, supplemental fluoride is a potentially useful option.
Last updated: 16-Jun-05