Fluoride: Answers to 5 Common Questions About This Amazing Mineral

When it comes to preventing cavities, fluoride is a powerhouse mineral. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad press out there about the dangers of fluoride treatment which can turn many people away from the number one best defense against tooth decay.

Understanding the facts about fluoride, how fluoride strengthens teeth, and the risks and benefits of fluoride as a nutrient may help put your mind at ease about this amazingly effective way to prevent cavities, tooth sensitivity, acid erosion, and many other tooth problems.

1. What Is Fluoride?

Just like phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It’s a nutrient in many foods like tea, grapes, raisins, many fruits and veggies, seafood, and even wine! You may be aware that many counties in Florida add fluoride to the water, but you may not know why that started.

How Did We Figure Out Fluoride Prevents Cavities?

All the way back in the early 1900s, a dentist in Colorado noticed many of his patients had dark brown stains on their teeth. A few decades later, researchers noticed similar stains in other mountainous areas throughout the world.

What all these populations had in common was that they all drank ground water that was very high in fluoride. They also noticed that people with so-called Colorado brown stain hardly ever got cavities.

When researchers put two and two together, they started digging into the exact properties of fluoride. Today, it’s one of the most thoroughly researched compounds in the world.

How Does Fluoride Strengthen Teeth?

What we’ve discovered is that fluoride, and especially certain forms of fluoride, have a strong chemical attraction to the minerals in enamel. Enamel is made of a combination of minerals built into a crystal-like structure. Acids can break the bonds in that structure, leading to cavities.

Fluoride plugs in the gaps left by acid, rebuilding the crystal into an even stronger structure than enamel on its own! Teeth with fluoride (fluorapatite) creates a dense, durable version of enamel that’s far more resistant to decay, erosion, and many forms of breakdown.

2. Is Fluoride Safe for Kids?

Fluoride comes in many forms. The forms of fluoride used in dental products like toothpaste, anticavity mouthwash, and fluoride varnish treatments are strictly regulated to ensure they’re of high quality and only added at clinically beneficial amounts without the risk of toxicity.

In the correct doses, fluoride is absolutely safe and highly beneficial for children and even babies. The conventional advice used to be to use fluoride-free toothpaste for babies until they could spit out the excess. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommends a tiny smear (about the same size as a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste for babies.

The dangers of fluoride in over-the-counter products are minimal. There is not enough fluoride in a typical tube of toothpaste to kill a child, even if they ate the whole thing, although it would certainly leave them feeling pretty awful.

What Is Fluorosis?

So what about that Colorado brown stain we mentioned earlier? We now know that an overdose of fluoride during tooth development can create stains called fluorosis, which can often appear as chalky bright white or brown spots.

Although dental fluorosis can cause discoloration, it doesn’t cause functional problems or damage the health of the teeth.

3. What Are the Best Ways to Get Fluoride?

There are two main ways to get fluoride to the teeth. It can be applied topically to the surfaces of the teeth or reach the inside of a tooth through its blood supply.

Toothpastes, anticavity mouthwash, and fluoride varnish treatment are common topical fluoride products. There are also concentrated gels and pastes available with a prescription for people with high mineral needs, very sensitive teeth, and certain medical conditions.

People getting treatment for cancer, especially if it involves radiation, need to ask their dentist about fluoride trays. People with a history of eating disorders can also benefit from prescription strength fluoride to use at home.

What About Fluoride in the Water?

Fluoride in water is the main way we help people get enough of the mineral to the blood supply of their teeth. It’s especially effective while the teeth are forming, which is why we have very specific recommendations for how much fluoride babies and children should get.

Many counties in Florida add it to the water supply, so tap water is usually a good source. If you’re on a well, it’s not a bad idea to have your groundwater tested for fluoride to see if you need a supplement, or if your water has too much fluoride.

For families without access to fluoridated tap water, talk to your pediatrician about whether your kids need nursery water or fluoride drops.

4. What Other Benefits Does Fluoride Have?

Besides protecting the teeth against decay and acid damage, fluoride decreases tooth sensitivity. Many people don’t know what causes tooth sensitivity.

Triggers for tooth sensitivity can be anything from temperature changes (like biting into a popsicle or taking a sip of ice water) to pressure to changes in pH from eating sugary or acidic foods. No matter what your specific tooth sensitivity triggers are, the root cause is frequently related to

5. Is Fluoride Just for Baby Teeth?

Absolutely not! Because of its affinity for the crystalline structure of enamel, fluoride works just as well to prevent cavities in adult teeth. The impression that fluoride is for baby teeth probably comes from the emphasis of treating baby teeth with fluoride because they’re so much more susceptible to decay.

Baby teeth tend to get more cavities than adult teeth, and those cavities can progress faster because the enamel in baby teeth is very thin. It can also be hard to remove plaque effectively from children’s teeth, meaning there may be more plaque and food debris to cause cavities.

There is some extra benefit to consuming fluoride in water while the teeth are still developing, as fluoride passed into the teeth through the blood supply can become part of the tooth structure and strengthen it before it even erupts into the mouth.

However, topical fluoride works just as well for adult teeth as for baby teeth and should be a key part of any good home care routine. Professional treatments like fluoride varnish for adults can give you an extra leg up against tooth decay.

Fluoride Is Essential Preventative Dental Healthcare!

At Lake Baldwin Dental, our mission is to help you enjoy better dental health. Prevention is the key to a lifetime of strong, healthy teeth and fluoride can be an easy, inexpensive way to keep your enamel strong, your sensitivity under control, and your smile sparkling.

Ask us about topical fluoride varnish treatment at your next dental cleaning in Baldwin Park, FL! Keep smiling, Orlando!

fluoride varnish treatment
A fluoride varnish treatment at your regular cleaning is great preventative dental care!