For decades, fluoride has been held in high regard by the dental community as an important mineral that strengthens tooth enamel. It’s the most common ingredient in toothpaste and often mentioned when discussing healthy teeth. Despite fluoride being so well known, it is not well understood. Most people do not know how fluoride strengthens teeth or why it is important.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a natural compound of the element fluorine. Fluorine is not common by itself but exists in small amounts within water, soil, air, and food. Almost a century ago it was discovered that communities ingesting more fluoride had healthier teeth, and ever since then it has been added to drinking water, toothpaste, and mouthwash.
Apart from toothpaste, most Americans receive the majority of their fluoride through drinking water. Our tooth enamel benefits from the added fluoride in the water, it is easily absorbed and protects the tooth almost instantly.
Fluoride is mainly useful in strengthening teeth but is additionally beneficial in preventing certain oral health problems like:
- tooth decay
- plaque build-up
Why is Fluoride Important to Teeth?
When ingested, fluoride is absorbed into our calcified tissue, predominantly bones and teeth. The fluoride strengthens these structures and increases their resistance to fractures and decay.
Our bodies have a natural process called remineralization that assimilates minerals like fluoride, calcium, and phosphate to repair tooth damage and bolster the enamel layer. This is particularly important because of certain sugars, acids, and bacteria that actively create a ‘demineralization’ process in our mouths.
Demineralization removes the same beneficial minerals that are added with remineralization. Without a healthy intake of fluoride and other beneficial minerals, our teeth are far more susceptible to tooth decay.
How Do I Get Fluoride?
Almost all public water has some level of fluoride in it. Water fluoridation is recommended by nearly every global health and safety-related organization. The American Dental Association notes that more than 146 million Americans drink fluoridated water. Most if this intake is from public water supplies, which have been enriched with added fluoride.
Optimal levels recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC for drinking water range from 0.7 parts per million (ppm) for warmer climates, to 1.2 ppm for cooler climates, as more water is consumed in warmer weather.
Most dentists, including Dr. Salesky and Dr. Resiman, agree that patients need a greater intake of fluoride outside of drinking water. Suggested supplements include dietary products, toothpastes, and rinses that have added fluoride. Certain beverages such as tea and soda may also contain fluoride. If necessary, dental varnishes and gels are known to boost fluoride intake.
There’s no need to panic about fluoride intact, assuming you’re drinking water and brushing your teeth twice a day you should not need additional fluoride. With fluoride, too much can have negative consequences.
Fluorosis and Fluoride Safety
Swallowing toothpastes, rinses, or other products containing topical fluoride is highly discouraged. While infrequent, high concentrations of fluoride can cause overexposure and result in a condition called fluorosis, which will stain tooth enamel. It is not particularly harmful, but the stains do not naturally fade.
For children, too much fluoride can result in a condition called enamel fluorosis. The primary teeth of these children are still developing, making the enamel vulnerable to fluoride, which can cause defects. This is why proper oral hygiene habits are important from a young age. Brushing and rinsing without swallowing will protect teeth without any additional side effects.
Most Americans receive their necessary fluoride intake from toothpastes and drinking water. Mouth rinses are not as effective as toothpaste for absorbing fluoride but can still be beneficial. For people that have difficulty brushing their teeth — due to conditions like arthritis — mouth rinses are a healthy alternative.
There are two types of mouth rinses according to The Food and Drug Administration: Therapeutic and Cosmetic.
Therapeutic rinses are more often enhanced with fluoride and actively fight cavities, plaque, and gingivitis. These rinses often are advertised as having powerful cleaning properties but remain as effective as a fluoride toothpaste.
Cosmetic rinses are more commonly known as mouthwash and are less likely to strengthen your teeth. In general, they are used to freshen breath odor, expel food particles and eliminate harmful bacteria. Their purpose is not to prevent gingivitis, periodontitis or tooth decay.
Worried about your fluoride intake? Contact Southington Dentistry for immediate professional advice.
If you need a recommendation for fluoride toothpastes, mouth rinses or gels, our team at Southington Dentistry is ready to help. With a few short questions, Dr. Salesky and Dr. Resiman can decide if you’re absorbing enough fluoride and suggest how best you can protect your smile. Come in for a consultation today!