Fluoride seems like such an innocuous thing. I remember getting fluoride treatments from the dentist when I was a kid. You spent 20 minutes trying not to gag from the molded plastic shoved up against your teeth and filled with orange flavored fluoride. And then there was the big Crest campaign that ballyhooed the benefits of fluoride found exclusively in their metal tubes. That was pretty much all I knew about fluoride the first time I set foot in the pediatrician’s office with my soon to be 1-year-old. The nurse asked me all kinds of questions about my child’s development and after I bored her with his amazing vocabulary and physical feats, she asked innocently, “Do you have well or city water?”
I’ve answered that question times three at yearly exams for my children for over 12 years now. And after I’ve replied that we have well water, the nurse hands me a prescription for fluoride pills. In the beginning, the doctors were gods, so I filled the prescription and dutifully gave my kids the yummy pills. I even had to keep them on a high shelf because they thought of them as candy. It wasn’t until one of my children ate a half a tube of toothpaste and Poison Control made me give the child syrup of ipecac that I began to wonder about fluoride. Turns out it’s toxic.
For years I’ve waffled between filling the fluoride prescription and ignoring it. Lucky for me none of my kids have any cavities. Cavities (and the big needle “the size of your arm!”) might cause the pendulum to swing pretty hard towards the fluoride. This year I’ve made it my quest to figure this out once and for all. Do my kids need fluoride supplements, fluoride treatments and fluoride toothpaste or not? I’ve asked every dental professional I can think of and several non-professionals who seem to know a lot. I’ve read all kinds of scary stuff on the internet and been dismissed by doctors who are irritated by my unending questions concerning fluoride. And for all the questioning and the reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows. Oh, there are lots of people who think they know. It’s just that they are all credentialed and wonderful people, but they disagree with each other.
One of the pediatricians in the practice where I take my kids (a doc voted “best in Maryland” time and again), said they must have it every day or they’ll get cavities. Another one in the same practice, who is Hopkins trained and truly a stellar doc, said “It can’t hurt”. He went on to say the worst that could happen is their teeth could be mottled. (And then said, “But that can be fixed.”) My dentist whom I adore, not because he suffers the same life I have with three kids the same ages as mine, but because he is unfailingly honest, asked me how often I give the kids the fluoride. When I said, “Whenever I remember to, but sometimes only once or twice a week,” he said, “That’s about right.” Besides consulting these docs and many more scattered about my life, I also spent too many hours surfing around the internet where you can find any answer you’re looking for.
So here’s what I take away from my investigation of kids and fluoride. It won’t kill them (unless they eat the whole tube), but they don’t necessarily need it. If bad teeth run in your family, I’d err on the side of too much fluoride. If they don’t, I’d be sure my kids brushed and flossed at least two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste and occasionally toss them a fluoride supplement (provided you don’t have naturally fluoridated water). I also buy toothpaste that doesn’t taste real great and isn’t easy to get out of the tube. That way they aren’t tempted to snack on it and hopefully they are only able to use the “pea size amount” which is recommended for safety. Next week I’m headed up to our extension service to pick up a water testing kit so that I can have my well water tested for fluoride (and God knows what else).
That’s my plan. I’m sorry I’m not more helpful to you. If you are in the Fluoride-is-a-communist-plot-to-destroy-the-health-of-Americans camp, you may take a different point. I hear ya. I really do. I’ve confessed before that I’m easily swayed by dark theories and there are some really dark stories on the internet and skeptical people floating around health food stores. The story of our health is truly a work on progress. Hopefully, by the time my grandkids come for a sleepover, the fluoride controversy will be settled once and for all and I’ll have no qualms about which toothpaste I keep in my cabinet.