Most Americans have heard of fluoride and know that it is added to toothpaste and public drinking water systems to enhance dental health, but have you ever wondered exactly what fluoride is and how it benefits dental health?
Simply put, fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral derived from fluorine, the 13th most abundant element in the earth’s crust and widely dispersed throughout nature, primarily as a fluoride compound. Naturally present in low concentrations in most water sources, as well as in most plant life, fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and helps make it more resistant to the natural acids responsible for tooth decay. In short, fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter.
How Does Fluoride Work?
Fluoride begins its work before those first teeth even emerge, as any fluoride contained within water or food is used by the body to help build the original tooth enamel of both the baby teeth, and then the adult teeth that replace them. In general, more fluoride leads to stronger enamel and greater resistance to tooth decay. After the teeth have emerged, any ingested fluoride continues to help maintain and rebuild tooth enamel, while fluoride passing over the teeth, whether through water, fluoride toothpaste or other fluoride dental products, is believed to provide an additional topical benefit.
Such benefits were recognized by dental professionals and scientists more than 70 years ago, which led to the adoption of fluoride as a public health additive in public water supplies. Prior to public water supply fluoridation, children generally had three times the number of cavities and studies have determined that fluoridation has reduced the incidence of tooth decay in about 25 percent of American children and adults. Its benefits have been deemed so successful that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists public water fluoridation as one of the top-10 public health achievements of the 20th Century.
How Can I Be Sure to Benefit From Fluoride?
If you’re on a public water system then you are likely drinking fluoridated water, as roughly 75 percent of all public systems in the U.S. fluoridate their water. Most water utilities report on their water fluoridation programs, but if you want a quick look, the CDC has a convenient online resource for checking fluoride levels in your community’s public water system. If you’re on a well, or use another non-public system for your drinking water, make sure you’re using toothpaste with fluoride, and consider using mouthwash with fluoride. Also, make sure you talk to your dental professional about fluoride. Not only will your dentist or dental hygienist be able to gauge how much fluoride you might already be getting, but they’ll also be able to apply a fluoride treatment directly to your teeth with a gel or foam, or prescribe a fluoride supplement, as needed.
Note that special precautions should be taken with children and fluoride additives. While fluoride in water and toothpaste has significantly reduced childhood cavities, too much fluoride can cause fluorosis (mottling of the enamel), and, in extreme cases, other health problems. In general, the American Dental Association advises that children under the age of three use no more than a grain of rice size dab of fluoridated toothpaste when brushing, while those ages 3-6 use no more than a pea-sized dab. Children under six should not use fluoridated mouthwash, and should be encouraged to spit out as much fluoridated toothpaste as possible.
The dental professionals at Naples, Florida-based Gulfside Dental can help assess your potential fluoride needs and ensure that you are receiving the right amount of fluoride to maintain optimal dental health. Gulfside Dental provides a full range of dental care services and has been helping people in southwest Florida maintain their oral health for more than 30 years. Learn how Gulfside Dental can help you with all of your oral health needs and in maintaining your perfect smile by contacting our office today at (239) 774-3017, or by scheduling an appointment via our online appointment portal.