One of the most important tools in a dental practice is used to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities. It’s not the tartar scraper or even the oscillating tooth polisher, it’s fluoride. Fluoride is a naturally occurring element, and since it was discovered to benefit oral health it has been used in many dental applications to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities. However, this element is not without controversy. The addition of fluoride to drinking water has caused a stir. However the benefits have outweighed concern in the United States, and the use of fluoride applications in our Jacksonville, Florida dental office help our patients protect themselves from tooth decay.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is the 13th most abundant element on the earth. It is found naturally in soil, foods, water, and in minerals. In freshwater fluoride can be found naturally at between .01 and .3 parts per million. In some areas water is not naturally fluoridated and in others, it is so fluoridated that it can cause serious health problems in the population. Fluoride can also be made in a laboratory and added to drinking water.
Why is Fluoride in the Drinking Water?
In the 1930s scientists noticed that in areas where fluoride was naturally occurring in drinking water the population had less tooth decay than those whose water was not fluoridated, 2/3 less in comparison. Since then repeated studies have been done to test the theory that fluoridated water is beneficial to humans. The findings have resulted in water fluoridation becoming a standard in metropolitan areas.
How does Fluoride Protect Teeth?
Fluoride protects teeth in more than one way. Acid produced by bacteria feeding on sugars in the mouth is the cause of tooth decay. Decay is essentially demineralization of the enamel by acid erosion. Fluoride protects teeth from demineralization by hindering bacteria from feeding on sugar to create an acidic environment. But, it also help remineralize teeth by accumulating in the areas that have been eroded, or demineralized, by acid. It even alters the structure of developing enamel, making it more resistant to acid erosion. Fluoride fortifies teeth by creating an environment where developing enamel can form so it is stronger from the early years of a child’s life and help prevent cavities for their entire life.
So, Why The Controversy?
Adding elements, even beneficial ones like fluoride, to a water supply will certainly raise some eyebrows. And especially in the case of fluoride, this concern is well warranted. Excessive fluoride ingestion can cause problems from aesthetic to life-altering. Excessive fluoride can occur because of added fluoride in the water supply, high concentrations of fluoride in natural water sources, untested bottled water, certain foods, the ingestion of fluoride containing materials such as mouthwash or toothpaste – usually by young children, and inappropriate use of fluoride supplements. On the light end of the spectrum too much fluoride can cause a condition called dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis occurs in children while their teeth are developing. It is characterized by white or brown spots and streaks that appear on the surface of the surface of the teeth.
Children between the ages of 1 and 4 should be monitored while using fluoridated products, and are advised by their pediatric dentist to not use them at all.
The more serious condition that can develop as a result of excessive fluoride consumption is skeletal fluorosis. This bone disease damages joints and bones because excess fluoride hardens the bones and creates an increased risk of fractures and results in severe pain. Severe cases of skeletal fluorosis can affect your thyroid and deplete the amount of calcium in the blood making bones even more susceptible to fractures.
How Worried Should I be About Excessive Fluoride?
In the United States the risk of developing skeletal fluorosis is very low, however it is extremely important to ensure your children are not exposed to too much fluoride. Skeletal fluorosis is endemic in 25 countries and the World Health Organization estimates that 2.7 million Chinese suffer from severe cases. Areas where fluoride levels are naturally high in water sources include southern Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In North America levels of fluoride in the drinking supply are closely monitored and considered safe by the US Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency.
Where Can I Find Fluoride?
Aside from trace amounts in drinking water, you will be able to find fluoride in your dentist’s office and in the dental aisle of the grocery store in the form of toothpastes and mouthwashes. During your routine biannual cleaning Dr. Shields will apply a fluoride treatment to strengthen your teeth and prevent cavities. You can also help remineralize and protect your teeth from acid by purchasing toothpaste and mouthwashes containing fluoride and use them everyday.
If you have any questions about the use of fluoride and your oral health routine and how it can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, schedule an appointment with your Jacksonville, Florida dentist today.