Dental Fluorosis And Children In Black Communities: Advice For Parents

Dental fluorosis is an unsightly problem that can affect your teeth's appearance. In the United States, dentists first became aware of the problem in 1901, when people living in Colorado Springs experienced a condition that doctors called Colorado Brown Stain. Since then, scientists have undertaken extensive research into the problems that fluoride can cause, including multiple studies about the increased risk in black communities. Learn more about the causes of dental fluorosis, and find out what black parents can do to protect their children's teeth.

Fluorosis causes

Fluorosis occurs when your children suffer excessive fluoride exposure. In the case of Colorado Brown Stain, doctors concluded that the condition occurred due to the high level of fluoride in the town's drinking water.

These days, excess fluoride supplements and fluoridated drinking water can cause the condition. Fluorosis also occurs because children misuse dental products that contain fluoride. For example, if children swallow the toothpaste each time they brush, the chemical exposure can cause dental fluorosis. 

Symptoms of dental fluorosis

Following fluorosis exposure, children's teeth can suffer several symptoms including:

  • Yellow or dark-brown stains
  • Surface irregularities
  • Noticeable pits in the teeth

Dental fluorosis damage can also lead to social anxiety and self-esteem issues in children, whose peers may tease them about their teeth's appearance. What's more, moderate to severe dental fluorosis can result in chipping, fractures and tooth decay because the enamel erosion further weakens the tooth.

Prevalence in black children

Fluorosis affects around one in four Americans between the ages of 6 and 49. The condition is most common in teenagers, and dentists only classify less than 1 percent of cases as severe. That aside, multiple studies show that black children in the United States are more likely to have dental fluorosis than their white or Hispanic friends.

Studies also show that black children tend to have more severe fluorosis symptoms. For example, a 2010 study found that 12 percent of black children with dental fluorosis had enamel pitting, while none of the white children saw the same problem. Other studies have shown similar results.

Doctors don't fully understand the reasons behind the increased incidence of fluorosis in black children. That aside, research shows that black communities often suffer from other risk factors, including:

  • Poorer nutrient intake and diet
  • Increased exposure to lead
  • Increased incidence of other health conditions like kidney disease that make the body vulnerable to fluoride
  • Increased fluoride consumption

Some researchers believe that black children are more likely to drink fluoride in water because they are at higher risk of lactose intolerance. When children are unable to drink milk, parents will often turn to water as an alternative.

What parents can do

Parents should work with dentists to maintain healthy fluoride exposure levels in their children.

It's important to find out the fluoride content in your local drinking water. If your drinking water has the recommended concentration of 0.7 mg per liter, you should make sure you manage the amount of fluoride your child consumes from other sources. Where children drink a lot of water, parents should consider introducing bottled water, which generally has lower fluoride levels.

Fluoride levels in food are naturally low, but parents should avoid certain products for children who are at risk from excessive fluoride exposure. Things to avoid (or moderate) include processed foods, flavored drinks, processed meats and grape beverages. Organic food is generally much lower in fluoride.

For children under the age of 2, you don't need to use fluoride toothpaste, unless your dentist at a place like Schererville Family Dentistry, PC tells you otherwise. You can brush young children's teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and water. For older children, supervise brushing to start with, to make sure your kids only use the right amount of toothpaste. Make sure your children spit the toothpaste out, and ask your dentist before using a fluoride mouthwash, too.

Dental fluorosis is an unsightly condition that can ultimately affect your child's health. Studies show that black children are more likely to suffer from the condition, so parents should take extra steps to protect their kids' teeth.