Fluoride – what is it good for? In a word, prevention. In two words, preventing cavities. Dental cavities are the most common human disease on the planet. We’ve become very good at treating them, but it’s much better not to get them in the first place.
Fluoride is simply one of the safest and most effective ways to prevent dental cavities. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control identified fluoridated drinking water as one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th century.
Fluoride works by reinforcing tooth enamel, the hard, defensive barrier that protects the softer tissues inside our teeth. How hard is tooth enamel? Harder than steel, although more brittle. It’s made up of crystals, a mineral form of calcium phosphate.
As hard as it is, enamel is vulnerable to the acid produced by bacteria that feast on the same stuff we’ve eaten, the remnants stuck to our teeth. When a spot of enamel is dissolved all the way through, it’s a cavity.
Fluoridated drinking water acts from within the body to change the configuration of the enamel crystals being laid down on growing teeth, which is why it’s so important for kids. The modified crystals are less soluble in those bacteria acids, and so are more resistant to decay. Flouride toothpaste promotes re-mineralization of worn enamel, also by stimulating faster crystal growth and bigger crystals. It can actually repair some carious lesions, cavities in an early stage of development.
We need both, fluoridated drinking water and fluoride toothpaste, for optimum prevention of cavities. Be aware that some home water treatment systems, notably those using Reverse Osmosis or distillation, remove much of the fluoride from water. If you have one of these, check with the manufacturer.
Finally, a few comments about fluoride’s safety. Fluoride is safe. Fluorine is the 13th most common element in the earth’s crust and is present in nearly all the world’s water. Fluoridation of drinking water means increasing the concentration to between 0.7 – 1.2 PPM. That’s parts per million! Yes, it’s possible for kids to develop dental fluorosis, but it’s a cosmetic issue, not a health issue, and is generally invisible to anybody but a dental professional. It’s estimated that about 25% of all people have dental fluorosis, but as you look at the people around you you’ll rarely see the characteristic white spots on anyone’s teeth. Since it develops before the age of 8, it’s preventable by teaching kids to spit after brushing, and not to swallow toothpaste.
Fluoride. It’s good for you, for your kids, and for everyone who has or will have teeth. Just ask your child’s dentist.