Water fluoridation is a popular practice in areas where there are high incidences of tooth decay among the population. The medical term for tooth decay is dental caries, a condition that may seem minor at first but can develop severe complications if left unmanaged. There are increasing cases of gum disease, oral and throat infections, and other conditions because of poor dental hygiene. Simply brushing your teeth isn’t enough; you have to have adequate levels of fluoride in your body in order to prevent tooth decay.
The role of fluoride
Fluoride is a mineral that naturally occurs in our teeth, preventing the acid-producing bacteria from decaying enamel. Enamel is the hard, outer covering of our teeth, which decays as acid is produced from bacteria that come from plaque. Fluoride slows this process by building up a tooth’s resistance to acid. Through the process of remineralization, more fluoride is deposited in areas where there is less of it, preventing further decay.
In order to address the issue of dental caries on a public level, fluoridated water was made available in several communities throughout the world. Water fluoridation is done by a controlled and artificial addition of a fluoride compound to the public water source. The levels of fluoride are actually quite low, just enough to prevent tooth decay with regular use and intake. This level is usually at 1mg/liter. Fluoride was the mineral chosen because it is able to dissolve easily in water, costs less compared to other minerals, and has very minimal to no side effects.
Regular intake: benefits and dangers
The main benefit of fluoridated water is that regular intake promotes a low-level of intraoral fluoride in saliva and dental plaque. Members of the population of different ages – from children to older persons benefit greatly from this process. Studies done by the WHO (World Health Organization) that there is in fact an inverse relationship between the level of fluoride in fluoridated water and the level of dental decay in the population. That means that the higher the level of fluoride in the water (within non-toxic levels), the lower the number of dental decay cases.
But there are dangers of an increased intake of fluoride, especially in places where the addition of fluoride in the water is not monitored correctly or there are natural sources of fluoride that contaminate the water supply with dangerous levels of the mineral. Exposure to too much fluoride can lead to dental and skeletal fluorosis.
In dental fluorosis, the teeth develop white streaks or specks (in mild cases). Severe cases can manifest as severe dark discoloration. Skeletal fluorosis is a much more dangerous complication, with fluoride depositing in the bones and causing bone damage and pain. As more and more fluoride deposits in the bones, the bone hardens which can further affect mobility.
While these complications are indeed dangerous, water fluoridation in the US is closely monitored, preventing high levels from being deposited in the water. To learn more about fluoride and fluoridation, schedule a consult at Greenspoint Dental today.