Parents might not focus on their children's dental health until their bundles of joy start teething. Lots of tears, cuddles and ice-cold teethers all precede tiny, white bumps that seem to suddenly appear. But unbeknownst to some parents, the oral issue known as "mottled teeth" may arise before their child sprouts that first tooth.
When teeth are first forming, drinking water with a high fluoride concentration can cause tooth discoloration, according toMedical Dictionary. The teeth emerge from the gum with white, chalky spots on the enamel. This disorder is also called dental fluorosis.
Fluorosis only affects young children who have yet to sprout all their teeth. A case of mild fluorosis is only visible to a dental professional. Mild to moderate cases produce white spots, lines and streaks. In severe cases, the enamel can develop brown, black or gray spots and the teeth can become pitted.
To properly diagnose fluorosis, a dentist will first ask about your child's fluoride consumption. If your child has ingested excess fluoride from supplements or water, their discolored teeth may indicate fluorosis, provided the discoloration didn't result from a medical condition.
Parents need to watch for mottled teeth until their children are around 8 years old. Parents can take steps to prevent their children from developing fluorosis, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). The preventive methods vary depending on the child's age.
Breastfed infants are unlikely to develop fluorosis, since breast milk is very low in fluoride. Even if they're drinking fluoridated water, nursing moms and pregnant women don't pass large quantities of fluoride to their babies.
Moms who feed their babies formula should mix low-fluoride or fluoride-free water with powder or liquid concentrate. Ready-to-feed formula is also an option, since it contains minimal amounts of fluoride.
Once your little one develops teeth, brush them daily. When kids are old enough to brush on their own, pay attention to the amount of toothpaste they use. For children ages 3 to 8, brush twice daily or as directed by a dentist. For children ages 3 to 6, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Also, make sure your child doesn't swallow too much toothpaste when they brush. A mouthwash that contains fluoride isn't necessary, unless your dentist recommends otherwise, for a child younger than 6 years old.
If you live in an area with naturally high-fluoride water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that local agencies notify consumers if the fluoride level is greater than 2 milligrams per liter. If your water supply is a private well, the EPA recommends having the well's fluoride level tested annually.
Fluorosis Treatment Options
Fluorosis isn't a medical condition that causes cavities or jeopardizes your child's health. It's only a cosmetic issue. However, there are treatment options if you're concerned.
Some dental fluorosis cases are minor enough that treatment isn't necessary, especially if it occurs on the back teeth. Cases that affect the front teeth can be treated with teeth whitening. Severe cases might require bonding, crowns or veneers, though your child may also lose the affected teeth in a short time depending on their age.
Though excessive fluoride can cause fluorosis, small amounts of fluoride help protect children's teeth, says the ADA. Fluoride found in foods, beverages and supplements strengthens the enamel of new teeth breaking through the gums.
Fluoride can also fortify teeth that have already erupted through the gum. It can remineralize weakened enamel while also reversing initial tooth decay. Fluoride that occurs naturally in food and beverages mixes with your saliva, rebuilding enamel as it coats your teeth.
All in all, fluoride has minor risks and major benefits for your child's whole mouth health. If you suspect your child has mottled teeth, consult a dentist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.