The importance of fluoride
Fluoride is important in strengthening teeth and helping to reduce decay. Fluoride in proper concentration, will help to mineralize tooth enamel and develop a healthy protective shield against cavity causing bacteria. Studies show that children in cities with fluoride in drinking water have less cavities.
Many years ago scientists started to notice that children who were born and raised in areas with natural fluoride in drinking water had fewer cavities than children in other areas. Fluoride absorbed by your body when teeth were forming (during mother’s pregnancy to early childhood) integrates into the structure of enamel and makes it stronger.
After teeth eruption, fluoride found in your toothpaste, mouthwash, or in what your dentist places on your teeth still has a positive effect on your teeth. It strengthens the enamel and reduces the chance of tooth decay.
There are two disadvantages to fluoride. First, too strong of a fluoride concentration can cause a condition call Fluorosis which is a cosmetic condition that affects the teeth. It’s caused by overexposure to fluoride during the first eight years of life. This is the time when most permanent teeth are being formed.
After the teeth come in, the teeth of those affected by fluorosis may appear mildly discolored. For instance, there may be lacy white markings that only dentists can detect. In more severe cases, however, the teeth may have:
- Stains ranging from yellow to dark brown
- Surface irregularities
- Pits that are highly noticeable
In many cases, fluorosis is so mild that no treatment is needed. Or, it may only affect the back teeth where it can’t be seen.
The appearance of teeth affected by moderate-to-severe fluorosis can be significantly improved by a variety of techniques. Most of them are aimed at masking the stains.
Such techniques may include:
- Tooth whitening and other procedures to remove surface stains; note that bleaching teeth may temporarily worsen the appearance of fluorosis.
- Bonding, which coats the tooth with a hard resin that bonds to the enamel
- Veneers, which are custom-made shells that cover the front of the teeth to improve their appearance; these are used in cases of severe fluorosis.
The second disadvantage is that a very small percentage of the population may have sensitivity or an allergy to fluoride. Just like any medication, some people do have an adverse reaction to certain chemical or medication. However, the prevalent of an allergy to fluoride is extremely low in the population.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and water. Every day, minerals are added to and lost from a tooth’s enamel layer through two processes, demineralization and remineralization. Minerals are lost (demineralization) from a tooth’s enamel layer when acids — formed from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth — attack the enamel. Minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate are redeposited (remineralization) to the enamel layer from the foods and waters consumed. Too much demineralization without enough remineralization to repair the enamel layer leads to tooth decay.
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It also reverses early decay. In children under 6 years of age, fluoride becomes incorporated into the development of permanent teeth, making it difficult for acids to demineralize the teeth. Fluoride also helps speed remineralization as well as disrupts acid production in already erupted teeth of both children and adults.
If you have children and live in an area that has no fluoride in its drinking water, you should consult your dentist and physician about fluoride tablets that are available for children.