Dental Fluorosis - Mild But Common
We mentioned some of the causes and effects of dental fluorosis in a separate article, but this article will focus almost exclusively on this visually unappealing dental condition.
Some people may be unfamiliar with the term but you might know a child or adult who has it or for other reasons might want to learn more about it.
This is an irreversible condition which occurs when a child ingests too much fluoride while his or her teeth are still developing.
Fluoride is a metabolic toxin, and exposure to excessive amounts at the "wrong" developmental stage can alter the process by which a child's teeth are formed.
The condition varies in severity, but everyone with dental fluorosis will have at least some degree of tooth discoloration, and severe cases involve even more damage to the teeth.
Because tooth formation primarily occurs between three months and eight years of age, this period is the most critical time for fluoride exposure, and some experts say the period between one and four years old is the most critical of all.
Generally speaking, even if a child older than eight (or an adult) is overexposed to fluoride, teeth fluorosis will not develop because by then the teeth have progressed beyond the critical formative stages.
As mentioned above, teeth fluorosis varies in severity. Sensitivity to fluoride exposure varies among children, and each child who is overexposed will react somewhat differently as a result.
Additional factors affecting the severity of the condition include the age of the child when the fluoride overexposure occurs, the levels of fluoride the child ingests, and nutrition, among others.
Dental fluorosis is usually fairly mild, causing only light speckles or streaks on the teeth. In some cases this discoloration is almost unnoticeable, but it is often the first visible sign of a child's overexposure to fluoride.
Unfortunately, cases of moderate and severe dental fluorosis also occur, typified by much more noticeable tooth discoloration. In its most severe form, teeth fluorosis causes highly visible black and brown patches (explaining why severe teeth fluorosis is also called "mottling of dental enamel") and pitting and cracking of the teeth.
Sources of Fluoride
The fluoridation of public water is a common practice in the United States and several other nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, for example.
Testing indicates more than 200 different contaminants and harmful chemicals are in our drinking water, and any one of them can adversely impact your health. One of those substances is fluoride, and although it won't cause teeth fluorosis in adults, an overexposure can be problematic for a young child.
Most people are aware that killing the bacteria and other pathogens in water is required in order to make it safe to drink, and that our public water supplies are treated with chlorine and fluoride to accomplish that very purpose.
However, many people might not realize that both chlorine and fluoride can cause health problems, some of which can be quite serious.
For example, chlorine is a bleaching agent which can be used to disinfect a variety of surfaces, but overexposure can damage the respiratory system. Even exposure to lesser amounts of chlorine can irritate the eyes, nose, mouth and skin.
Fluoride has been associated with an elevated risk of Alzheimer's disease, skeletal fluorosis, teeth fluorosis and decreased thyroid function, which often leads to obesity.
Many people, including some dentists, are becoming increasingly concerned about repeatedly exposing our children (and adults) to fluoride every day by adding it to our drinking water.
Fortunately, although water treated with fluoride can cause teeth fluorosis, in most cases the tooth discoloration is very mild and does not significantly impact the appearance of the teeth.
The fluorine levels in some naturally fluoridated water does significantly exceed the recommended upper limit, however, and when that is the case drinking this water can cause a young child to develop severe teeth fluorosis. Pollution caused by burning high-fluoride coal can produce a similar result.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the "CDC") show that dental fluorosis in American children is on the upswing.
It actually occurs more frequently in children who do not have sufficient dietary calcium and in rural areas which have naturally fluoridated water that contains more fluorine than the optimum levels.
Prevention is Key
Although dental fluorosis is permanent once it occurs, it can be prevented by reducing a child's fluorine intake to below the recommended limit.
The American Dental Association began recommending just that in 2006, suggesting that parents of infants prepare their formula with water that contains no or low amounts of fluoride in order to decrease the likelihood of dental fluorosis.
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