Fluoride has become a very important tool in the fight against tooth decay. Numerous studies have shown a 25-70% reduction in cavities when the area’s water supply is optimally fluoridated.
It was discovered in the early 1900’s that people who had naturally occurring fluoride in their water had fewer cavities. In the 1940s, several cities were chosen for a pilot study where fluoride was added to their water supply. It was such a success that other cities soon decided to join in.
How Does Fluoride Work?
If no fluoride is present in someone’s diet, enamel is composed of structures with the hydroxide ion bonded to them. When fluoride is available, it takes the place of hydroxide because it has a stronger bond to the enamel structure. This stronger bond to fluoride means it takes a stronger acid to break down the tooth structure. This breakdown, leading to mineral loss, is how cavities are formed. So, teeth that have fluoride incorporated into their structure are harder to breakdown than teeth without fluoride.
Fluoride helps in two different ways. Systemic fluoride (what has been consumed) is incorporated throughout the developing teeth. This makes children’s teeth resistant to cavities throughout their lives. Adults also benefit from systemic fluoride because it is found in their saliva where it constantly replenishes the mineral in their teeth. Topical fluoride, like brushing with fluoridated toothpaste or getting a fluoride treatment at the dentist, helps strengthen the outer part of teeth already in the mouth.
Is Fluoride Safe?
Fluoride is safe and natural. Many studies have been performed and all have shown that it is safe. Millions of healthy people have been drinking water with naturally occurring fluoride for generations. Some of them had up to 10 times the concentration as is currently recommended by the FDA. No health problems were reported at this recommended 1 part per million (PPM) level.
Recently it was decided that the concentration should be lowered to .7 PPM. This was because some people were showing signs of fluorosis. Fluorosis is the discoloring of teeth during development because of too much fluoride in their diet. This is why children should not swallow toothpaste.
As just mentioned, too much fluoride can discolor developing teeth. Infants and small children should use nonfluoridated toothpaste until they are able to spit out the excess. When they are old enough, and can spit, start with pea-sized amounts toothpaste. If you do not have fluoride in your water supply, tell your dentist so they can prescribe some supplements.
Filters and bottled water can reduce the amount of fluoride intake. Some bottled water does contain fluoride, but most do not. Some water filters may also reduce the concentration of fluoride. There is very little information on water filters so manufacturers should be consulted.
This information was taken from the ADA publication Fluoridation Facts. Similar data can be found on their website ADA.org.