Defending against cavities isn’t just child’s play.
There are several reasons that so many oral care brands direct their messages at kids and their parents. If children can develop good habits at young ages, they’ll likely carry them into adulthood. Also, strengthening kids’ teeth starting at infancy will help protect them as they grow.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends that fluoride is especially important for babies starting at 6 months and continuing through age 16, in order to promote healthy teeth and prevent tooth decay. (Defer to a pediatrician or dentist for the amounts and methods for fluoride in children.)
But what about after age 16? Do adults need to continue using fluoride oral care products, and is drinking fluoridated water still important?
Do Adults Still Need Fluoride?
Yes, adults benefit from fluoride throughout their lives. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that just by drinking fluoridated water, adults can decrease their cavities by 25%. In 2007, the ADA released an official statement saying that anyone who is at moderate to high risk for tooth decay should consider professional fluoride treatments.
Adults who are at risk for tooth decay because of certain conditions should talk to their dentists about supplementing their oral care routines with fluoride, especially anyone who has:
- Smoked cigarettes or chewing tobacco
- Suffered from dry mouth (caused by medical conditions or medications)
- Gum disease or a history of it
- A history of frequent cavities
- Worn braces or orthodontic appliances
- An eating disorder
- Poor oral hygiene at any point in their lives
- Abused alcohol or drugs
- Had radiation to the head or neck regions
Also, anyone who does not have access to fluoridated water or who uses a water filtration system that removes fluoride and other minerals from water should talk to their dentists about supplementing their oral care routines with fluoride treatments.
How Much Fluoride Do You Need?
According to Mayo Clinic, there are no recommended daily allowances for fluoride, but they do list the following dosages:
- Birth to 3 years: 0.1 to 1.5 mg
- 4 to 6 years: 1 to 2.5 mg
- 7 to 10 years: 1.5 to 2.5 mg
- Adolescents and adults: 1.5 to 4 mg
Most fluoridated community water systems have about .7 mg per liter of water, but you can check with your local health department, which tracks your community’s water supply.
How Can Adults Safely Get Fluoride?
There is a lot of misinformation about fluoride and its so-called dangers. Too much fluoride can lead to a rare condition called fluorosis, which affects children 8 and younger while their teeth are forming. The most common form of fluorosis shows up as white spots on the teeth, and it is not harmful to teeth, nor does it affect the enamel. Severe forms, which are very rare, cause pits in teeth as well as changes to the enamel.
According to the CDC, “Children older than 8 years, adolescents, and adults cannot develop dental fluorosis.”
Adults get fluoride by drinking fluoridated water, by using dental care products fortified with fluoride, and if needed, by getting fluoride treatments at their dentist’s.
Where to Get Fluoridated Water
The CDC tracks community water systems that fluoridate their water, and as of 2018 (the most recent data available), about 63% of the US population receives fluoridated water, and about 73% of people living on community water systems receive fluoridated water. If you want to find out more information about your state or community system, start by looking at the CDC’s State Fluoridation Table.
Professional Fluoride Treatments
Fluoride treatments in a dentist’s office take only a few minutes and cost between $10 and $30, depending on where you live, the treatment, and your dentist’s pricing.
Your dentist or dental hygienist will clean and polish your teeth first, to ensure there are no underlying issues. Then they’ll dry your teeth and brush on the fluoride; some applications come in foams, gels, or varnishes. They’ll ask you not to brush, rinse, eat or drink anything for about 30 minutes after applying the fluoride. It’s a painless and mostly flavorless process that is worth the protection.
How often you need the fluoride treatment depends on your age, your overall health, and your risk for cavities. Usually, it’s every 3, 6, or 12 months.
Oral Care Products Fortified with Fluoride
Do you still need to use fluoride products if you drink water that’s been fortified with fluoride? Yes, and here’s why: The ADA and other experts recommend that we protect our teeth with fluoride intrinsically (drinking water) and extrinsically, by using toothpaste and rinses that contain fluoride.
How much fluoride is in toothpaste? Most toothpastes sold in the United States contain 1,000 to 1,500 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride (Source: CDC). If you use this twice daily, you should get enough topical fluoride; inquire with your dentist if you are concerned.
Mouth rinses with fluoride typically contain between 230 and 920 ppm. Some experts recommend against brushing and rinsing with fluoride products at the same time. So, adults would do well to brush twice daily and rinse between brushings or as recommended by your dental care professional.