The True Benefits of Flouride
Fluoride. Everyone’s head of it. It’s proudly displayed on countless toothpaste tubes as a featured ingredient, and it’s even included in some of the nation’s most popular mouthwashes. We’ve all heard our local dentist say that it’s good for our teeth, but do many of us know why?
Many of our patients ask: what is fluoride? Is it safe? What does it even do? This naturally occurring mineral has earned its place in dentistry for good reason. It’s basically Mother Nature’s secret weapon against tooth decay.
What is fluoride?
Most of us are familiar with fluoride from a few sources: our toothpaste, dentist, or even hearing about fluoride in our water.
Flouride is a naturally occurring mineral (like salt) found in rocks, oceans, rivers, lakes, and wells. Ancient humans got fluoride from the plants and animals they ate and the rivers and lakes they drank from.
Today, trace amounts of fluoride can still be found in everyday foods and drinks such as:
- Grapes, Raisins, and Wine
- Black Tea
- Russet Potatoes
- Canned Shrimp
While fluoride is found all over the planet, naturally occurring amounts aren’t that high, typically less than 0.05 mg/L (milligrams per liter). To put that in perspective, the fluoride in your tap water is only between 0.7 to 1.2 mg/L, which is about the same amount found in a single serving of black tea. The Mayo Clinic recommends adolescents and adults intake between 1.5 to 4 mg/L a day from a combination of food, water, and supplements.
In some rivers and lakes, however, the amount of fluoride found can vary greatly. While typical water sources have less than 0.5 mg/L, groundwater sources near volcanos or mountains can have as much as 50 mg/L. When there’s that much fluoride in the water, a process called defluoridation must be used to make the water safe to drink. Remember, too much of anything can be toxic, but fluoride poisoning is very rare. The amount of fluoride found in tap water, toothpaste, mouthwash, and even fluoride supplements has all been carefully measured and poses no danger to either adults or children with proper use.
What does fluoride do?
Fluoride has long been touted as a “cavity fighter,” but why?
In short, fluoride makes your teeth harder, which protects them from decay.
See, your teeth are designed to take a lifetime of stress while cutting and grinding your food. They can do this because they’re coated in a shiny shell called enamel, which protects the inner part of your tooth from damage, like a suit of armor. Your enamel is also why you can drink hot coffee or eat an ice cream cone without pain; it also acts as a sort of thermal shield to the nerves in your teeth.
Unfortunately, unlike other parts of your body, your enamel isn’t made of living cells. It can’t regenerate, and once it’s gone, either from wear or holes created by bacteria, it’s gone. Your tooth armor has now been compromised, and only the care of your dentist can patch the armor up and restore your tooth so it can keep doing its job.
So, where does fluoride fit into this? Well, believe it or not, but our body actually does have a way of preventing cavities and even healing our teeth, but only a little. But before we go further, it’s helpful to understand how our mouths work when they’re correctly taken care of.
Our mouth has its own unique ecosystem. Living inside it are billions of different microbes, with hundreds of different bacteria surviving there. Most of the bacteria in our mouth are actually good; they help with digestion and help regulate our various body functions. Some bacteria, however, are harmful to our teeth. They live off sugars and produce a powerful acid known as lactic acid as a byproduct. Over time, this lactic acid is powerful enough to destroy tooth enamel and cause a cavity that requires dental fillings. Usually, this isn’t a problem because they’re low in number and are checked by good bacteria. These good bacteria raise the pH balance of your mouth and release special proteins, both of which make it hard for the harmful bacteria to multiply.
Another form of natural protection your teeth have that you might not have known about is your very own saliva. It acts as a physical barrier against harmful bacteria and washes your teeth in a bath of calcium, phosphate, and (when regularly consumed) fluoride. These minerals can fit into the minor tears and abrasions that your teeth get from all the hard work they do and fills in those gaps through a process known as remineralization. This helps shore up weak points in your teeth, and the fewer of those in your enamel, the stronger your teeth are. This is what we mean when we say that fluoride makes your teeth “harder.” With no weak points, harmful bacteria have a tougher time creating cavities. It can even help repair damage caused by small cavities, but not big ones that have already caused significant damage to the enamel.
This is why fluoride is a crucial oral hygeine measure: it makes your teeth more resistant to cavities and can even heal small amounts of damage to a tooth’s enamel. Along with regular dental visits, this means that if any trouble does crop up, it will be minor enough and caught soon enough to avoid major dental procedures.
How dentists use flouride
Dentists use fluoride in the office for the same reason you would use it at home: strengthening tooth enamel and preventing tooth decay. Along with your regular brushing and flossing regimen, your dentist may want to provide you with a professional fluoride treatment as part of your visit. But unlike at home, your dentist has specialized tools and treatments to help give your teeth a massive fluoride boost. The American Dental Associate (ADA) recommends that patients get a professional fluoride treatment every 3, 6, or 12 months depending on their overall oral health.
These treatments can take the form of a highly concentrated rinse, gel, varnish, or foam and are typically applied with a swab, tray, mouthwash, or brush. Because the dentist is applying fluoride directly to your teeth, the amount of fluoride in the treatment will be higher than you would find in tap water, toothpaste, or mouthwash. It’s not unusual for your dentist to advise waiting 30 minutes before eating or drinking to allow time for the fluoride to fully absorb into the teeth. Your dentist may also prescribe a fluoride gel or rinse to use at home if you are at high risk for cavities.
What fluoride doesn’t do
While adding fluoride to your oral health routine certainly helps keep your enamel strong, its ability to repair your teeth is limited. Think of it as a maintenance policy, not repair. If you have cracks, chips, or tooth decay, your teeth will require fillings, veneers, or other procedures from your dentist to help and protect them.
Fluoride is powerful, safe, and beneficial to your overall oral health. If you’re ready to get on the road to a healthier smile, the experts at keith + associates are ready to be your guide. At our practice, your smile is cared for by a team of experts for a holistic view of your overall oral health.