Benefits of flouride in dental care

For decades, dental professionals have known the value that fluoride has in protecting oral health. Fluoride, a natural mineral found in dental hygiene products and in municipal water supplies across the country, helps protect teeth by promoting the development of hard tooth enamel. Fluoride is not without controversy, however, with family dentists and oral health experts often facing off against vocal anti-fluoride activists. In this guide, we will discuss the pros and cons of fluoride – its role in protecting oral health as well as some of the potential negative effects of this mineral.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is an ion of the element fluorine, and can be found in a number of minerals in the Earth’s crust. It is colorless, but may present a distinctively bitter flavor in higher concentrations. Fluoride is typically produced from the mineral fluorine, and can be found in low concentrations in natural water supplies like rivers and streams.

Fluoride is added to municipal water supplies in 43 of the largest cities in the United States. This mineral is added to water supplies to help protect tooth development, particularly in children. When used as a supplement in water supplies or in oral healthcare products, fluoride can significantly improve enamel strength, which wards off tooth decay. This is particularly important in the developing teeth of children 12 or under.

If fluoridated water is not available through municipal supplies, or if people drink well water, there are other sources for this important mineral. Many grocery stores sell fluoridated water. Dentists may also provide their patients with fluoride supplements, such as chewable tablets or drops given in the form of a prescription.

Fluoride and Oral Health Care

As mentioned earlier, fluoride is seen by dental professionals as a critical component of oral health. There are a number of oral health conditions that may benefit from fluoride administration. Conditions include:

Gum recession/tooth decay: prescription toothpastes containing high levels of fluoride can strengthen tooth structures, helping to protect the teeth from further damage.

Dry mouth: prescription toothpastes or oral rinses protect the teeth against the damaging effects of “dry mouth”, which can lead to decay. Dry mouth is often caused by medications or from seasonal allergies. Special brush-on fluoride treatments may be recommended by dentists in addition to high-fluoride toothpastes.

Orthodontic concerns: patients with braces or corrective appliances in the mouth run a higher risk of developing tooth decay. White spots can also form on the teeth due to demineralization as calcium levels are disturbed and weaken the tooth enamel. Daily fluoride rinses are critical in protecting against white spots, enamel weakening, and decay, especially in orthodontic patients.

Drawbacks of Fluoride in Oral Health Solutions

Two potential drawbacks exist for the use of fluoride in oral healthcare. The first is a rare condition called fluorosis, identified by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as a defect in the tooth enamel, leading to unsightly discoloration of the teeth. This is most likely found in patients who have been exposed to too-high levels of fluoride during their developmental years (up to about the age of 12). Carefully monitoring fluoride levels, both in drinking water supplies and in dental toothpastes, rinses, and supplements, can help ward off this uncommon but not dangerous condition.

A more serious concern is fluoride toxicity. At high levels, fluoride can be extremely toxic, potentially leading to fatal poisoning deaths. The levels required to produce such serious effects can be quite high, however, and deaths from fluoride poisoning are extremely rare.

Despite these potential risks, fluoride is an important part of the daily oral healthcare regime. Dentists and hygienists know that with a little care and the right amounts of fluoride, patients will have healthy, strong teeth and beautiful smiles for many years to come.