By Stephanie Zeller-Iliff, DDS
What Does Fluoride Do?
To quote the American Dental Association: Fluoride benefits both children and adults.
Here’s how: Before teeth break through the gums, the fluoride taken in from foods, beverages and dietary supplements strengthens tooth enamel making it stronger and more resistant to cavities. This provides what is called a “systemic” benefit.
After teeth erupt, fluoride helps rebuild (remineralize) weakened tooth enamel and reverses early signs of tooth decay. When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, or use other fluoride dental products, the fluoride is applied to the surface of your teeth. This is provides what is called a “topical” benefit.
In addition, the fluoride you take in from foods and beverages continues to provide a topical benefit because it becomes part of your saliva, constantly bathing the teeth and helping to rebuild weakened tooth enamel.
How and Where Do We Get Fluoride?
Fluoride is naturally present in variable concentrations in ground water, i.e. water from a faucet or water generally used to cook with. A certain amount of fluoride does occur naturally in rivers etc. Bottled water, distilled, or deionized water generally does not contain fluoride.
In addition, fluoride is provided in most toothpastes, as well as some mouth rinses. This is a very important part of cavity prevention, so be sure fluoride is in the toothpaste that you use.
What is Community Water Fluoridation?
Water fluoridation is the process of adding additional fluoride supplements to a community’s water source. Years ago, the government decided to add some fluoride to certain communities with naturally occurring low fluoride levels due to the high prevalence of cavities throughout the population. About 72% of the US is served by fluoridated water systems. Once fluoride was added to community’s water source, the cavities rate was significantly decreased. Simply by drinking tap water, people can decrease they risk of decay.
Not Drinking Tap Water?
If you’re an individual who only drinks bottled water, you may be at risk for not receiving an adequate amount of fluoride to decrease your risk of decay. Talk to your dentist about this. They may suggest fluoride supplements, or a change in toothpaste with an increased percent of fluoride concentration.
What Puts You at Risk for Decay?
There are many things that can increase your rate of decay, or number of cavities.
1. Poor oral hygiene. The number one cause for cavities is poor oral hygiene. This means those that don’t take good care of their teeth, i.e. proper brushing twice and day and flossing once a day.
2. Diet. Such as high intake of sugar or certain foods that lend itself to a better environment for bacteria to thrive within the mouth such as fruit, crackers, breads, potato chips. Also, eating many meals throughout the day increases your risk due to a change in the acid level of the mouth, which takes 30 minutes to stabilize after eating.
3. Beverages. Soda, even diet soda, when consumed throughout the day can be very detrimental to teeth. As can any other beverages with high acidity or large quantities sugar. This includes fruit juices.
4. Medications that cause dry-mouth. Bacteria tend to thrive in mouths with very little saliva.
5. Uncontrolled diabetes.
There are many factors that play into one’s risk for decay. For a thorough evaluation to be sure you’re not at high risk, visit your dentist.
Ways to Receive Additional Fluoride.
Again, as noted from above, fluoride supplements are available. In addition, your dentist may want to occasionally treat your teeth with fluoride. This usually done with a fluoride gel, placed in trays that you sit with for under 5 minutes. In addition, there is also a fluoride varnish that can be placed onto your teeth which is meant to be brushed off the next day.
If you are at a higher risk for decay, your dentist may want to change your toothpaste to a higher concentration of fluoride such as Prevident 5000 or have you use additional products like MI Paste.
The ADA provides answers for your fluoride questions:
American Dental Associations Take on Fluoride