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Using Fluoride

Mouthwash with fluoride can help make your teeth more resistant to decay, but children six years or younger should not use it unless it’s been recommended by a dentist. Many children younger than 6 are more likely to swallow it than spit it out because their swallowing reflexes aren’t fully developed.

  • Even though the baby teeth have not erupted, infants still need fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong.
  • A pediatric dentist will determine the child’s fluoride needs during the initial consultation.
  • Children older than six months may need a fluoride supplement if their drinking water does not contain the ideal amount of fluoride.
  • Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay by as much as 50 to 70 percent.1
  • A pediatric dentist will help determine whether the child needs a fluoride supplement and, if so, will prescribe the proper amount based upon the child’s age, fluoride levels in her primary source of drinking water, and other dietary sources of fluoride. Fluoride is conveniently available in fluoride drops or in combination with prescription vitamins.


Ingesting too much fluoride can cause fluorosis of the developing teeth. Fluorosis usually is mild, with tiny white specks or streaks that often are unnoticeable.  Three common ways a child can get too much fluoride are:

  • Taking more of a fluoride supplement than the amount prescribed.
  • Taking a fluoride supplement when there is already an optimal amount of fluoride in the drinking water.
  • Using too much toothpaste, then swallowing it instead of spitting it out.

Parents should supervise their preschoolers’ tooth brushing. Use a small smear or rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste for children under three-years-old. For those aged 3 to 6 years, use no more than a peasized amount of fluoridated toothpaste when helping your children brush. (see Figure 1)

Radford Dental Wellness for Young People, Pearland, TX
Smear to a small pea amount of toothpaste

Figure 1. Comparison of a smear (left) with a pea-sized (right) amount of toothpaste. “Caries increments in 3-year studies were approximately 20-30% greater in subject brushing once or less per day compared with those brushing twice or more a day” From Fejerskov and Kidd (Dental Caries, Blackwell, Munksgard, 2009)