Fluoride is useful to help protect the teeth and prevent tooth decay. Interestingly, many of us learn about how fluoride can help promote healthier teeth, before we ever take a chemistry class. From a young age, when we first visit the dentist, we are directed to brush with toothpaste containing fluoride and to rinse with mouthwash containing it as well. Beyond that, we just do as we are told, but here are some other facts that may interest you.
Fluoride is a compound containing the natural element, fluorine, which has many uses unrelated to oral hygeine. In chemistry, this compound is symbolized by the letter “F” in the periodic table.
Many dental products contain small amounts of fluoride as a preventative ingredient to ward off tooth decay. Fluoride actually protects the teeth to prevent the loss of important minerals and strengthens enamel. This occurs as a result of remineralisation. Without this mineral compound, teeth can become weak and develop decay and cavities. Fluoride also fights against acid attacks, which are common due to diet and foods that are high in acid and sugar. The presence of fluoride actually discourages acidic reactions, bacteria build up and agents that break down the healthy protective surface of the teeth. Fluoride when used in the right amount and in conjunction with a healthy diet and proper oral hygiene, equal better teeth.
Fluoride Sources – Where Is It Present?
Fluoride is not naturally present in water, however, many places add fluoride to public water supplies, which can be sufficient enough to give people a head start on healthier teeth. So if you are in a community that fluoridates their water supply, and if you drink tap water and use it to brush your teeth, chances are your teeth may be stronger and healthier. Some research indicates that fluoridation of public water systems can decrease cavities and decay by more than 50 percent.
Fluoride is also an active ingredient in many products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, treatments, varnishes and gels, sold over the counter and used in dental offices.
Recommended Doses of Fluoride
From an early age, children should use fluoridated toothpaste to brush twice a day. The recommended times to brush are after breakfast and before bedtime. The benefits of brushing increase when people brush twice a day, rather than once a day. Fluoride toothpaste is meant only to brush and not to be ingested.
Now, many dentist offices offer topical fluoride treatments as a preventative routine for children and young adults, to help protect the enamel and keep cavities from forming. These treatments are normally applied after six-month cleanings in the form of a gel or varnish that is administered and left on the teeth for a few minutes before rinsing. Ask your dentist if he or she offers fluoride treatments and the additional cost. This added measure may help protect your children’s teeth and lower future dental bills.
There is a downside to fluoride use. If one uses too much fluoride it can have a negative impact on the teeth, which causes a condition called fluorosis.
How Much is Too Much
Excessive fluoride use damages the enamel and forming cells, causing fluorosis. This condition is irreversible once the damage is done. Contrary to remineralisation with the use of fluoride, the opposite from too much fluoride is mineralization, a disorder which is from too much fluoride and over-mineralisation, leading to porosity and a permanent break down of the enamel’s matrix. This can be mostly true for children if their fluoride intake is not monitored. They are at greater risk for not rinsing, swallowing or ingesting fluoride or using too much toothpaste or mouthwash.
Ask your dentist about recommended fluoride use and treatments. In addition, if you feel there is a chance you or a family member may have fluorosis, ask about the available solutions for that condition.