There seems to be a lot of controversy around fluoride. Although many people have heard of this mineral and know that it’s good for your teeth, not many know what it actually does. This may lead some to accept the misinformation that’s currently being promoted about fluoride and its effects. We think that it’s important to have a little background knowledge about fluoride.
Fluoride is a mineral present in water or food. It strengthens teeth by interacting with the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.
When you eat, the bacteria in your mouth metabolize some of your food. They produce acid, which eats away at tooth enamel. In between meals, your teeth undergo a process called remineralization. This means that the damage caused by acid during meals is repaired, and the tooth enamel is strengthened.
The minerals present in tooth enamel are mainly calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride. When fluoride is present in the saliva, then the resulting enamel is much harder than when there’s no fluoride around. This allows the tooth to be far more resistant to decay. Softer enamel is more easily dissolved by the acids produced by bacteria, which can lead to the need for fillings and, in more severe cases, crowns and other restorative work on damaged teeth.
When levels of fluoride are extremely high, such as near an industrial mining site, then fluoride can cause problems with the bones and other tissues. This is known as fluorosis. Many studies “proving” that fluoride causes health problems involve this type of situation, with extremely high levels of fluoride that are indeed unhealthy.
The levels of fluoride that cause fluorosis are far higher than those used in drinking water in the U.S. and other developed countries. You may have read that fluoride causes certain problems. This is now being used as an argument against fluoride in drinking water. The truth is that the health problems are caused by very high levels of fluoride, not by the more modest levels in drinking water. The levels of fluoride added to drinking water are carefully calibrated to be well below the levels at which health problems would occur.
Fluoride is especially important for children, whose enamel is still being formed. Once the child is old enough to stop swallowing all of the toothpaste, then it’s recommended that a fluoride-containing toothpaste is used. It’s also important to ensure that you have fluoridated drinking water. If not, your dentist may recommend fluoride drops to strengthen your child’s teeth. In addition, fluoride treatments are recommended for children periodically. In this treatment, a strong fluoride solution is painted onto the teeth in the dentist’s office.
Though it’s particularly important for children, adults still benefit from having fluoride in their toothpaste and drinking water. The teeth need to constantly strengthen the enamel in response to damage caused by the acids produced by bacteria. In some cases, a fluoride treatment may be useful in an adult patient. For example, in cases of tooth sensitivity, a fluoride treatment can help to strengthen the enamel and thereby reduce the sensitivity.
For over 25 years, Dr. Mark Caggiano, DDS has provided cosmetic and restorative dentistry in a comfortable, professional environment. Dr. Caggiano received a degree in Biology and his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from The University of Southern California. He has had extensive post-graduate training and is a member of numerous professional organizations including The American Dental Association and The International Dental Implant Association. Dr. Caggiano makes dental treatment relaxed and comfortable for patients while enhancing their oral health and beautifying their smiles.