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Hidden dangers of fluoride in children's toothpaste

 Excessive fluoride intake can lead to skeletal fluorosis, which affects the bones and joints. [iStockphoto]

To function properly, the human body requires several minerals. One of the key minerals is fluoride, which is necessary for maintaining dental health and preventing tooth decay.

Fluoride is found naturally in various water sources, soil, and certain foods. It is so important in the body that it is also found in many dental products. However, excessive intake of fluoride during critical periods of tooth and bone development causes a condition known as fluorosis. The overabundance can lead to undesirable effects on teeth and bones.

Fluorosis is most common in Kenya in areas where the water supply contains naturally high levels of fluoride. The most common form of dental fluorosis symptoms may have barely visible discolouration as streaks or spots on the tooth enamel. Brown discolouration and pitting of the enamel occur as the condition worsens. This makes the teeth more prone to decay.

If unchecked, excessive fluoride intake can lead to skeletal fluorosis, which affects the bones and joints. The pain, stiffness, and limited joint mobility caused by skeletal fluorosis, especially in the later stages, result in crippling deformities that have a negative impact on an individual’s quality of life.

Fluorosis prevention entails maintaining an appropriate level of fluoride intake to promote dental health while avoiding excessive exposure. It is critical to check the fluoride content of drinking water on a regular basis to ensure that it is within the optimal range (0.7 to 1.2 mg/L or ppm).

Individuals should consider using alternative water sources or fluoride-removal methods if natural fluoride levels in the water are high. While a lab test is the most accurate way to determine fluoride levels in water, there are some reasonably priced homes testing kits available. Unfortunately, they are not widely available in Kenya and must be ordered online or from a specialist shop.

This is especially important given that fluorosis can only be prevented, but its effects cannot be reversed. Because the condition mostly occurs during critical developmental stages, parents and caregivers can help prevent it.

They must be cautious about the water sources they use for their children and supervise their use of fluoride-enriched products such as toothpaste.

For children under the age of six, a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is sufficient to prevent excessive fluoride ingestion.

Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes foods with low fluoride content. Fluoride is commonly found in foods like marine fish, black tea and coffee, and shellfish. Processed foods are also high in fluoride because the water used in their production frequently contains fluoride. 

If fluoride supplements are deemed necessary, they should only be taken under the supervision and prescription of a dentist or healthcare professional, and the recommended dosage should be strictly followed. 

-Dr Sylvia O Noah is a dental surgeon and dental manager at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.

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