It’s hard to discuss daily dental hygiene without mentioning the importance of fluoride. Still, there is a lot of information and some misinformation out there about this mineral – how it works, what it does, whether it’s safe – so here are some important facts about fluoride and your dental health.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs natural in many foods, and it can be found in many water sources.
How Does Fluoride Work on Your Teeth?
Your enamel is basically a lot of mineral crystals that hold tight to each other. However, these crystals are lost and gained every day. The process is called “demineralization” or “remineralization.” When the bacteria in your mouth start to produce acids, they dissolve the crystals in your enamel. If they are not remineralized, it leads to tooth decay.
There are minerals in the saliva, such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate, that help to remineralize it, and fluoride from toothpaste or rinses can help this process.
Do Swallowed Fluorides Help?
Fluoride in foods and water enter the bloodstream through the stomach, where it is absorbed into the body and used by teeth that are still developing in the jaw. This means that swallowed fluorides do not have the same impact on someone who is older than about 16.
Do I Need Fluoride Supplements?
Fluoride supplements are usually only meant for children between 6 months and 16 years old who do not drink fluoridated water. Even then, it’s usually only recommended for children who have a high risk of cavities. In some cases, it may also be recommended for adults.
What Should I Know about Fluoride in My Tap Water?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that you can find in various water sources at various levels, so many locations will have more fluoride than others.
However, fluoride is also added to public drinking water supplies to help reduce cavities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided recommendations about the optimal levels of fluoride in drinking water. The final decision about fluoridation, though, will be made at the local level.
Can Fluoride Actually Harm Someone?
When it’s used properly, fluoride has been shown in many different studies and to be safe for topical and systemic use. However, it is still important for parents to always supervise the use of fluoride in children.
While it is true that too much fluoride can lead to problems, the amount used in most fluoridated water supplies (usually 1 part per million) is so small that it is very difficult to receive toxic doses of fluoride from your water supply.
What Is Fluorosis?
There is a level at which fluoride can become unsafe and cause defects in the tooth’s enamel. This is called fluorosis and can appear as small, barely noticeable white specks or more serious brown discoloration. It happens when someone is exposed to excess fluoride while the teeth are still forming (so it’s usually only a concern for kids under 6 years of age).
Fluorosis is most often diagnosed in places with naturally occurring fluoride, where the dosage is much higher (like in local well water). It is extremely difficult to reach hazardous levels with the low parts per million in home-based fluoride-containing products.
How Can You Make Sure Children Don’t Get Too Much Fluoride?
Children under 6 have poor control of their swallow reflex, which means they tend to swallow more toothpaste while brushing. It’s important to supervise your child’s tooth brushing and make sure that they’re only using a pea-sized amount of paste and spitting out the excess.
If your child is still less than two years old, be sure to check with a dental professional before using fluoride toothpaste.
You should also store any fluoride supplements in your home where young children cannot reach them.
Fluoride is an important part of your daily dental health routine. Make sure you and your children are using it to effectively minimize cavities.