One of the most widely used elements in general dentistry is fluoride. While many patients have heard of this substance, few understand exactly what it is used for. As such, below are four commonly asked questions regarding fluoride:
What Exactly is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that can be found in soil, water, and many foods. The earth has an abundant supply of this material, with fluorine (the main part of the compound) being the 13th most abundant element found on the earth's crust.
Typically, fluoride is used in order to help prevent problems related to your teeth. This is because the element actually makes your tooth enamel stronger, meaning you will be less susceptible to plaque accumulation.
Many countries around the world – including the United States – add fluoride to the water supply in order to help protect citizens' teeth. This process is controlled by water companies, who add fluoride into the supply at low concentrations so that your teeth are protected from plaque through simply drinking water from your faucet.
How Does Fluoride Protect the Teeth?
Fluoride offers your teeth protection in three separate ways:
- By promoting remineralization – Fluoride is extremely effective in helping teeth that have already suffered some damage by exposure to acid. When applied directly, or passively through drinking water, fluoride accumulates in small pockets of demineralized enamel and starts to strengthen the area. This process is called remineralization and can be considered as "tooth decay in reverse".
- By inhibiting demineralization – When your tooth enamel undergoes remineralization, the new structure of the tooth is actually stronger than the original tooth. This means that through the active process of remineralization, your tooth is given an extra layer of protection against harmful bacteria and acids.
- By slowing down acid production – Tooth decay is caused by the production of acidic waste products which are created by bacteria living inside your mouth. Not only does fluoride help to protect against the production of such harmful acids, it actually creates an environment in which bacteria is unable to produce large amounts of these harmful acids.
Why do Some People Need More Fluoride?
While most people will receive enough fluoride from toothpaste and drinking water, some people may require additional fluoride in order to maintain a healthy smile. Typically, dentists will recommend fluoride treatment in patients with poor dental health, as their teeth will be unable to fight against tartar and plaque accumulation.
While poor overall oral hygiene can sometimes merit fluoride supplementation, the majority of cases are found in those with pre-existing conditions. Diseases such as gingivitis, or the presence of large abscesses, can increase the risk of tooth decay. In these patients, dentists may recommend fluoride supplementation to give the teeth some extra protection against harmful acids.
Is Fluoride Safe?
While the benefits of fluoride are well understood, there has been some debate on the safety of adding fluoride to toothpaste and the water supply. The concerns regarding fluoride are due to the possibility of fluorosis – a condition that occurs from high exposure to fluoride.
Fluorosis is classified as an esthetic condition as opposed to a disease. This condition is only detrimental to children, and can occur when the teeth are still growing at an early age.
Typically, fluorosis can cause the teeth to become slightly discolored on the surface, with tiny white or brown specks becoming present in surface enamel. These spots and stains are permanent and cannot be removed by teeth whitening later in life. In severe cases, the structure of the enamel may become damaged and take an unusual shape on the tooth.
Therefore, although fluorosis only occurs at very high concentrations of the element, it's important to monitor your children's teeth to ensure that they aren't being damaged from overexposure. If you are worried about fluorosis, there are a number of fluoride-free toothpastes available on the market that can help protect your children's teeth. Additionally, consider talking your concerns through with your dentist, who will be able to tell you more about fluoride and how to avoid fluorosis in young children. For more information, contact a local dental clinic like Dental Associates PC.