Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in food, soil, and water. It has been added to municipal drinking water supplies around the world for decades, thanks to its role in preventing tooth decay and related dental health problems.
What is tooth decay?
The single most common dental health problem in the US, tooth decay is caused by plaque build-up. Plaque is a clear, sticky substance created when food, saliva, and bacteria combine. The acids released by the bacteria erode the hard enamel surface of the tooth, leading to cavities, infection, and eventually tooth loss.
Poor dental hygiene allows bacteria to multiply and causes plaque to accumulate on the teeth and under the gum line. A diet high in sugary or acidic foods can also contribute to plaque and decay, as can smoking and drinking alcohol.
Children are especially vulnerable to tooth decay. A taste for candy and other sweet foods contributes to plaque build-up, and is made worse by the fact that it can be difficult to get kids to brush as well or as often as they should.
Younger children who take a bottle of juice or milk to bed often end up with decay because their teeth are exposed to the liquid all night. This allows plaque-causing bacteria to thrive and softens the enamel surface, making it easy to brush away in the morning.
How does fluoride prevent tooth decay?
Fluoride protects the teeth by strengthening the enamel and reducing the levels of harmful acid produced by oral bacteria. In young children, fluoride also leads to shallower ‘ridges’ in the teeth as they develop, which means plaque can be brushed away more effectively.
Is fluoride safe?
In recent years, water fluoridation has been connected to everything from neurological disorders to reproductive issues to acne. So far, no study has conclusively demonstrated these links and fluoridation at the current level is considered safe by all major health organizations. In fact, residents of cities with fluoridated water supplies see up to a 50% reduction in tooth decay.
That said, there are risks associated with excessive fluoride consumption. The most common (although still rare) is dental fluorosis, which occurs when children are exposed to too much fluoride while the adult teeth are developing in the gums. It manifests as fine, pearly lines or flecks on the teeth, and can lead to permanent tooth pitting or discoloration.
How can I make sure I get the right amount of fluoride?
Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste is considered the most effective way to prevent tooth decay. Avoid rinsing or using mouthwash straight after brushing, though, as you’ll wash away the fluoride.
You can find out how much fluoride is in your toothpaste by looking for the ‘ppm’ (parts per million) number on the packaging. For children under three years old, choose a toothpaste with at least 1000ppm. Older children should use a toothpaste with a minimum of 1350ppm, while adults should aim for 1500ppm and over.
To help prevent younger kids from consuming too much fluoride, you should supervise brushing as much as possible. Use only a pea-size amount of toothpaste and encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste, rather than swallowing it.
In most areas, the level of fluoride in drinking water is strictly controlled and is not high enough to cause adverse effects, even when brushing with a fluoride toothpaste. However, if you’re concerned or curious about your intake, you can contact your local water authority to find out how much is added to your supply.
Fluoride varnish is painted onto the teeth by your dentist to fortify your tooth enamel and prevent decay. It is recommended twice yearly for children as a preventative measure, but it’s also available to adults to prevent or halt tooth decay, especially in high-risk patients.
If you’re at high risk of tooth decay or you’re already experiencing mild decay, your dentist can recommend/prescribe a fluoride mouth rinse. This fortified mouthwash can not only help to prevent further decay, but it can promote the repair of existing damage.
Fluoride rinses should be used twice per day, but ideally not at the same time as brushing. As mentioned earlier, the rinse will wash away the fluoride from your toothpaste and render it ineffective.
For most people, the fluoride they obtain from toothpaste and drinking water is enough to maintain good dental health. However, children in areas without fluoridated water are up to five times more likely to suffer from tooth decay.
If your city doesn’t have a fluoridated water supply, you and your children may benefit from a supplement. Your dentist can prescribe fluoride tablets, and can also advise you on further ways to support your teeth.
Curious about fluoride? Talk to us!
We strongly believe that fluoride is essential for your dental health and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. If you’d like to talk about incorporating fluoride into your dental routine, or you’re concerned about tooth decay, contact our friendly team at Mountain Peak Dentistry now at (303) 988-7800.
About Mountain Peak Dentistry:
Mountain Peak Dentistry is the dental practice of leading dentist, Dr. Brennan Bonati. We’re proud to be recognized as the most trusted, reliable and compassionate dental practice in Lakewood, CO and the surrounding areas, providing comprehensive, restorative and cosmetic dentistry.