Dental Fluorosis


Dental fluorosis is a developmental disturbance of dental enamel caused by the consumption of excess fluoride during tooth development. It's caused by overexposure to fluoride during the first eight years of life more commonly, the time when most permanent teeth are being formed. 

Dental Fluorosis
Common sources of fluoride includes, toothpaste (if swallowed by young children), drinking water in fluoridated communities, beverages and food processed with fluoridated water, dietary prescription supplements that include fluoride (e.g., tablets or drops) and other professional dental products (e.g., mouth rinses, gels, and foams). Increases in the occurrence of mostly mild dental fluorosis were recognized as more sources of fluoride became available to prevent tooth decay. These sources include drinking water with fluoride, fluoride toothpastes (if swallowed by young children) and dietary prescription supplements in tablets or drops. Moderate-level chronic exposure (above 1.5 mg/litre of water - the WHO guideline value for fluoride in water) to drinking water is typically the most significant source. 

Dental fluorosis can occur among persons in all communities at different severities, even in those with a low natural concentration of fluoride in the drinking water. However fluoride in water is mostly of geological origin. Waters with high levels of fluoride content are mostly found at the foot of high mountains and in areas where the sea has made geological deposits. Known fluoride belts on land include: one that stretches from Syria through Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Kenya, and another that stretches from Turkey through Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, northern Thailand and China. There are similar belts in the Americas and Japan. In these areas fluorosis has been reported. Various studies from all over the world on the disease burden of different populations reveals different figures. But As of 2005 surveys conducted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in the USA between 1986 and 1987 and by the Center of Disease Control between 1999 and 2002 are the only national sources of data concerning the prevalence of dental fluorosis.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2004 and the 1986-1987 National Survey of Oral Health in U.S. School Children reveals that there were less than one-quarter of persons aged 6-49 in the United States had some form of dental fluorosis. The prevalence of dental fluorosis was higher in adolescents than in adults and highest among those aged 12-15. Adolescents aged 12-15 in 1999-2004 had a higher prevalence of dental fluorosis than adolescents aged 12-15 in 1986-1987. Another survey conducted in Indian subcontinent shows that fluorosis is an endemic disease prevalent in 20 states out of the 35 states and Union Territories of the Indian Republic.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of fluorosis range from tiny white specks or streaks that may be unnoticeable to dark brown stains and rough, pitted enamel that is difficult to clean. The severity of the condition depends on the dose (how much), duration (how long), and timing (when consumed) of fluoride intake. Since the 1930s, dentists have rated the severity of fluorosis using the following categories:
  • Questionable -The enamel shows slight changes ranging from a few white flecks to occasional white spots.
  • Very mild      -Small opaque paper-white areas are scattered over less than 25% of the tooth surface.
  • Mild               - White opaque areas on the surface are more extensive but still affect less than 50% of the surface.
  • Moderate        -White opaque areas affect more than 50% of the enamel surface.
  • Severe             -All enamel surfaces are affected. The teeth also have pitting that may be discrete or may run together.
Classification of Dental Fluorosis

Treatment options
Depending upon severity of the disease, treatment option varies. Micro/Macro abrasion, Bleaching, Composite restorations, Veneers, Full crowns are the main options available. These are described in detail in another article.

Disease prevention

Removal of excessive fluoride from drinking-water is difficult and expensive. The preferred option is to find a supply of safe drinking-water with safe fluoride levels. If you rely on well water or bottled water, your public health department or a local laboratory can analyze its fluoride content. Where access to safe water is already limited, de-fluoridation may be the only solution. Methods include: use of bone charcoal, contact precipitation, use of Nalgonda or activated alumina (Nalgonda is called after the town in South India, near Hyderabad, where the aluminium sulfate-based defluoridation was first set up at a water works level).

Health education regarding appropriate use of fluorides and parental vigilance is a key measure to prevent fluorosis. Keeping all fluoride-containing products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses, and supplements out of the reach of young children and monitoring your child’s use of fluoridated toothpaste are key facts. Only place a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush. Also teach your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing instead of swallowing it. To encourage spitting, avoid toothpastes containing flavors that children may be likely to swallow. Adult supervision of tooth brushing by children younger than 6 years of age and changes in recommendations for administration of fluoride supplements so that such supplements are not given to infants and more stringent criteria are applied for administration to children.

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