Mother and daughter talking to dental professional

5 Tips for Talking to Parents About Fluoride

Date: June 2020

Author: Louise Sinclair

In recent years, much misinformation about fluoride has made its way into the mainstream media. As a dental professional, you will likely have encountered parents who are therefore skeptical or anxious about fluoride. With parents looking to us for guidance, here are some strategies for educating and reassuring them about the safety and effectiveness of fluoride.

1. Emphasize that fluoride is a natural substance

It is helpful to emphasize that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water, soil, and certain foods, and to avoid the use of potentially loaded words such as 'chemical.' Explain that water fluoridation simply adjusts the amount we ingest in communities where there is a less than optimal amount of fluoride present naturally in the water.

2. Focus on the benefits of fluoride

While it may be tempting to focus on explaining misinformation, unless a parent has asked about specific misinformation this may do little to reassure them. Instead, focus on communicating the scientifically proven benefits that fluoride offers:

  • The protective effect of fluoride against tooth decay at all ages
  • The connection between a healthy dentition, nutrition and better overall long-term health
  • The avoidance of treatment that would be needed in the future if tooth decay were to destroy tooth structure.

Parents can be assured that fluoride toothpastes are proven to be safe and effective against tooth decay, and are backed by evidence-based research. Parents need to know to make sure their children are brushing properly and using the right amount of toothpaste - not too little and not too much - to help protect their teeth, and should supervise them during brushing and spitting out after brushing. They should understand that fluoride in toothpastes and other fluoride treatments are topical (surface) applications of fluoride to strengthen teeth and not intended to be swallowed.

3. Share evidence-based information about fluoride safety

Providing parents with evidence-based information will help to support your facts about the benefits and safety of fluoride. For example, you can highlight that leading dental authorities worldwide, including the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), recognize the safety and efficacy of fluoride against tooth decay and recommend the use of fluoride.

4. Educate parents on fluorosis

Some parents believe that brushing with fluoride toothpaste will cause fluorosis. In this case, it is helpful to begin by explaining that the amount of fluoride toothpaste recommended is optimized and will help to protect teeth against tooth decay. After that, explain that fluorosis depends on the total amount of fluoride, from all sources, that was ingested over a period of time during tooth development. This includes fluoride contained in foods, water, toothpaste or rinse that is inadvertently swallowed, and other sources. You could let parents know that in cases where fluorosis has occurred, most are so mild that only a dentist would notice it. Parents can be referred to the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy resource which explains how and when teeth form, and advised that by around eight years-of-age the crowns of all of the permanent teeth, except the wisdom teeth, have fully developed.

If parents have seen pictures of individuals with brown, mottled teeth, it can be explained that this is severe fluorosis and that it occurs in areas where children drink well water, containing extremely high levels of fluoride, for prolonged periods of time during tooth development. For example, well water in parts of Africa, the Middle East and South America.

5. Respond to concerns and reassure parents

For parents who have questions or concerns, it is of course helpful to begin by acknowledging that conflicting information about fluoride can be confusing and worrying, and that parents are right to ask questions.

If a parent is concerned about a white spot on their child's teeth, first explain that a white spot can be a sign of the early stages of tooth decay, the result of an infection or other condition, or of a knock to a primary tooth that caused damage to the developing permanent tooth underneath. If, on examination, it is found that the white spot is early dental caries, this is an opportunity to re-emphasize the benefits of fluoride products like Colgate® Kids Cavity Protection Toothpaste, and to convey that in addition to helping to strengthen and protect children’s teeth against tooth decay that they can also stop and repair early decay.

Parents are ultimately trying to do what they believe is best for their children. Dental professionals can help them do this by advising parents on the proven role of fluoride in helping to protect their children's teeth against tooth decay.