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Fluoride During Childhood

Topic Overview

Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay and dental cavities. It may be added to local water supplies, toothpastes, and other mouth care products. If your child is younger than 3 years, use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years. Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.

Studies show a reduction in tooth decay in children if fluoride is added to or is found naturally in a community's water supply.footnote 1 To find out how much fluoride is in your drinking water, call your local water company or the local health unit. If you have your own well, have the local health unit check your water to find out if your family needs fluoride from other sources.

Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults.

If your child has a high risk of getting cavities, your dentist may recommend additional sources of fluoride. These include varnish or gel the dentist puts on your child's teeth, or supplements. Only use fluoride supplements if your dentist recommends them and keep them out of reach of your child.


Dental fluorosis looks like thin white lines on teeth that usually only a dentist can see. It doesn’t affect how teeth work and may make teeth less likely to decay. Dental fluorosis happens when teeth are exposed to high levels of fluoride while they’re developing, mostly during the first 8 years of childhood. Fluorosis isn’t harmful to your health.

Safe Use of Fluoride

Fluoride is safe in the amounts provided in water supplies. Other fluoride products are also safe if you use them as directed. Swallowing large amounts of fluoride can cause an upset stomach. Keep all fluoride products (e.g., toothpastes, mouthwashes) away from children. If you think your child may have accidentally swallowed too much fluoride product, call your local poison control centre right away.

Related Information



  1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2013). Guidelines on fluoride therapy. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Accessed December 3, 2013.

Other Works Consulted

  • Bailey WD (2009). Community water fluoridation. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 212–238. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Campbell PR (2009). Topical fluoride therapy. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 245–271. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Weyent RJ, et al. (2013). Topical fluoride for caries prevention. American Dental Association Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry. Accessed November 8, 2013.


Adaptation Date: 8/20/2021

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

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