There’s a lot of talk about fluoride in health-savvy circles, and much of that discussion is focused on the uses of fluoride as dental treatment and fluoridation in water. Questions along the lines of “should tap water contain fluoride?”, “How does fluoride affect our health?”, “are there long-term risks to fluoridation?” and “are dental fluoride treatments safe?” abound. And while those are always good questions to ask, unfortunately, they’ve given rise to a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about what fluoride is and what it does. In order to understand the issue, we’re going to take a brief, science-based look at the facts about fluoride and how we use it to improve our collective health:
First off, fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found all over the planet in various forms. It is one of the more abundant elements in nature, found in most natural freshwater sources to varying degrees. It is soft in texture, often colorful, odorless, with a distinct bitter flavor in concentration–fluoride is salt in chemical terms.
So how do we use fluoride? As it turns out, in the right concentration either as dental treatment or as an additive to drinking water, fluoride is a powerful tool for preventing cavities. It works something like this: our teeth need minerals to maintain their strength, shine, and health. They get these through a process called remineralization, in which they absorb minerals provided via the saliva in the mouth. This is a natural and generally effective process. However, as with all things, sometimes this natural process isn’t quite enough to keep us healthy. If our teeth aren’t sufficiently remineralized, the protective enamel can weaken and allow bacteria a foothold in the tooth itself. If left untreated, this can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and even infection or tooth loss. It’s a serious problem in many places around the world, and one of the foremost challenges for modern dentistry.
This is where fluoridation of water and dental fluoride treatments come in. By adding fluoride to drinking water or applying it to the teeth via a gel treatment or fluoridated toothpaste, we can enhance the body’s natural remineralization process and thus strengthen the teeth and help prevent cavities. And, as shown by over 70 years of research, fluoridation is effective towards that end. Fluoride in drinking water has reduced cavities in children by at least 25%–a big gain for dentistry! Direct use of fluoride as dental treatment is even more effective in both children and adults, making it a powerful tool in your dentist’s arsenal against tooth decay.
This leads us to our final question: are fluoride and fluoridation safe? The answer is yes, based on generations of research and study by scientists around the world. Fluoridation has improved the health of untold millions of people around the world, and the use of fluoride enhanced products like toothpaste and mouthwashes is a great way to protect your overall oral health.
Hopefully, we’ve helped you learn a bit more about fluoride and how it helps your teeth stay strong, shiny, and healthy. If you have further questions, don’t be afraid to ask during your next office visit. We’ll help you understand how you can better care for your teeth by making the best use of fluoride and the other tools available to you. So if you need an appointment, get in touch today. We’d love to see you!