What is it?
Fluoride is commonly used in dentistry to strengthen enamel, which is the outer layer of your teeth. It helps to prevent cavities, so it’s sold in some kinds of toothpaste, and it’s also added in small amounts to public water supplies in the United States and many other countries. But, what exactly is?
Fluoride is a chemical compound of fluorine paired with another element. It contains compounds that are used in the prevention of tooth decay.
If your toothpaste is fluoride-free, brushing and flossing alone isn’t enough to keep the cavities away. According to a recent study done at The University of Washington, fluoride has a huge effect on helping you avoid cavities.
While brushing and flossing do help, it’s fluoride that makes the difference in getting to the plaque and preventing cavities. If you don’t use some form of it, the plaque is inaccessible and you can’t reach it.
How does it work?
Cavities start to form in tiny cracks and crevices in your tooth enamel. Exactly how fluoride helps prevent cavities is not certain, but there’s some evidence that it may inhibit the enzymes that break down the tooth.
Scientists hypothesize that the fluoride ions replace hydroxyl ions in hydroxyapatite in your teeth, which lead to fewer cavities. This is why it’s added to some kinds of toothpaste, and certain dentists may also give you a yearly fluoride treatment. Overall, experts believe it helps restore minerals to the enamel, which ultimately helps to strengthen your teeth.
Besides buying toothpaste with fluoride and having yearly treatments done at your dentist, another way to get it is through your tap water. More than 70 years of scientific research has consistently shown that an optimal level in community water is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay by at least 25% in both children and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named community water fluoridation one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Are there any side effects?
While fluoride is a naturally occurring compound, it can still cause side effects when consumed in large doses. In the United States, the amount that’s added to water is very small– about 0.7 parts per million (ppm). That’s the maximum allowed amount, as of 2015– and it’s completely safe.
Dental fluorosis happens when you consume too much fluoride while your teeth are still forming under your gums. This results in white spots on the surface of your teeth. Other than the appearance of white spots, dental fluorosis doesn’t cause any other symptoms or harm.
It usually only tends to affect children under the age of 8, who don’t have all of their permanent teeth. Kids are also more likely to swallow toothpaste, which contains significantly more fluoride than fluoridated water.
Many people have claimed that it can cause other health problems. The truth is, aside from the occasional mild case of dental fluorosis, there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that fluoride added to local water supplies causes any health problems.
Make an appointment.
The American Dental Association recommends that you have a dental cleaning twice a year. If it’s been over six months since your last cleaning, it’s time for you to make an appointment. If you’d like a fluoride rinse, please ask!
Dr. Randall Burba is an American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry accredited dentist, with a practice in Salem, Massachusetts. He considers himself an artist–with teeth and beyond! He often paints, draws and has a passion for woodworking.