All Your Questions About Fluoride Answered

When you are searching the aisles for the perfect toothpaste, there are more important elements to look for than whitening power and flavors. No matter which version you choose, make sure it contains fluoride. Many people don’t understand what fluoride is and how it benefits your teeth, but as you will discover by the end of today’s blog, fluoride is your teeth’s BFF!

Fluoride is a mineral that is found naturally in water, foods, plants, rocks, and soil. Kids Health explains, “Fluoride, which exists naturally in water sources, is derived from fluorine, a common element in the Earth’s crust. It is well known that fluoride helps prevent and even reverse the early stages of tooth decay.”

What is fluoride used for?

As suggested above, fluoride is commonly used in dentistry to help strengthen enamel and prevent cavities. In addition to being used in dental products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, fluoride is used in medical imaging scans and as a cleaning agent. It is also used to make steel and aluminum products.

Why do your teeth need fluoride?

The American Dental Association says, “When your saliva has fluoride in it from sources like toothpaste or water, your teeth are able to take it in. Once in your enamel, fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate there to create the most powerful defense system your teeth can have to prevent cavities from forming: fluorapatite. It’s much stronger, more resistant to decay and fights to protect your teeth.” Ultimately, fluoride fights the bacteria that would cause cavities and it also reverses early tooth decay.

How does fluoride work?

Fluoride fights tooth decay in two different ways:

  1. When ingested, fluoride can enter the bloodstream and become part of developing teeth (which is why it is important for youth to get enough fluoride).
  2. Fluoride also protects the teeth from the outside, so acids from bacteria can cause less damage.

Where can you find fluoride?

You can find ADA approved fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash, which allow users to apply fluoride directly to their teeth. If you are in significant need of fluoride, your dentist or doctor can prescribe fluoride supplements.

You may even have fluoride in your water. Kids Health explains, “For more than 60 years, water fluoridation has proved to be a safe and cost-effective way to reduce dental caries. Today, water fluoridation is estimated to reduce tooth decay by 20%-40%. […] CDC statistics show that more than 60% of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water through the taps in their homes. Some communities have naturally occurring fluoride in their water; others add it at water-processing plants.”

What are fluoride treatments?

You can also get a fluoride treatment by your Houston dentist. A fluoride treatment involves visiting your Houston dental practice to have a fluoride gel or foam applied to your teeth directly. The treatment includes a higher level of fluoride than you can get from toothpaste or mouthwash.

Who needs fluoride the most?

First, it is important to understand that we all need fluoride. However, there are some groups of people who need fluoride more than others. For example, the amount of fluoride you need will depend on who much water already appears in your water supply.

Generally, young people should have exposure to fluoride to help strengthen their permanent teeth, but adults also benefit from fluoride exposure to help fight off tooth decay. Additionally, those individuals who have suffered from a high number of dental caries (cavities) or gum disease need additional fluoride.

How do I find out if there is fluoride in my local water supply?

Since water fluoridation has proven successful, many public water systems have started adding the optimal amount of fluoride to the water. You can find out if your public water system contains fluoride by speaking to your dentist or contacting local or state public health departments. Also, you can visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s My Water’s Fluoride tool.

Keep in mind that this only applies to public water systems where fluoride has been added intentionally. If you have well water, you can have your fluoride levels tested by a lab or through the public health department.

Plus, some home water treatment systems remove fluoride from the water. Again, you should have the water tested to ensure your household is receiving the right amount of fluoride.

What are the dangers of fluoride?

Just as with other minerals and supplements, too much of a good thing can prove to be harmful. In fluoride’s case, this is known as dental fluorosis. WebMD explains, “excess fluoride can cause defects in the tooth’s enamel that range from barely noticeable white specks or streaks to cosmetically objectionable brown discoloration. These defects are known as fluorosis and occur when the teeth are forming – usually in children younger than 6 years.” Typically, dental fluorosis tends to occur from fluoride found in natural sources, like well water. However, most cases are mild.

How can you prevent dental fluorosis?

Since dental fluorosis is more of a concern for children, it is important for parents to pay attention to the amount of fluoride their children are exposed to. For instance, parents should keep fluoride products out of reach and supervise their children when they brush using toothpaste with fluoride to make sure the children do not swallow the toothpaste when brushing their teeth. Also, until they are 6 years of age, children should only use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Regardless of age, it is important to have your water tested if you are unsure of the fluoride levels.

What is the right amount of fluoride?

Which brings us to the final question – what is the right amount of fluoride? Public water systems claim the optimal level of fluoride in the water should be 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. Upon learning how much fluoride is in your water, you will have a better idea of how much additional fluoride you need.

At Greenspoint Dental in Houston, we can also help you assess your fluoride intake and offer suggestions to help you reach the optimal level.