For people over the age of six, using a fluoride toothpaste is a good idea. It may also be a good idea for younger patients if they are at a high risk for cavities.
When you use a fluoride toothpaste, you’re strengthening your tooth enamel, which helps to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride also can help repair teeth that have suffered minor tooth decalcification (first step in the breakdown of the tooth surface). You can also get fluoride from fluoridated tap water. But many scientific studies over decades have shown that fluoride toothpaste helps keep cavities at bay, and that regular brushing with a fluoride toothpaste is a reliable way to promote oral health.
One thing to keep in mind: No matter how much you like the flavor of your fluoride toothpaste, always spit it out. No type of toothpaste, whether it has fluoride or not, is meant to be swallowed. If fluoride toothpaste is swallowed by children whose teeth are still developing (up to about 8 years of age), they can develop a mild case of a condition called fluorosis, in which excessive fluoride interferes with the development of tooth enamel. This causes white spots or streaks on the teeth that can become darker with age. That’s why many dentists recommend that children younger than 6 should not use fluoride toothpaste, or that if they do, they should be supervised by an adult so they don’t swallow it. So be sure to keep all fluoride products, including toothpaste and mouthwashes, out of reach of children. Older children, teens and adults whose teeth are fully developed are not at risk for fluorosis.
Always look for fluoride toothpastes that have been approved by the American Dental Association. Beyond that, you can choose from an array of flavors and types of fluoride toothpaste or gels, some of which boast additional benefits such as tooth-whitening or tartar control. And if you want a breath-freshening boost, you can find gel toothpastes with fluoride, too.