Everything You Need to Know About Fluoride
What is Fluoride?
The scientific definition: Fluoride, the 13th most abundant element on the earth’s crust, is a chemical ion of the element fluorine, but fluoride has one extra electron that gives it a negative charge.
Fluoride is found naturally in soil, water, foods, and minerals. In fact, in some parts of the world, fluoride is so abundant in the fresh water that it can actually be dangerous and cause health problems.
At a safe level, however, it can actually reduce tooth decay. For this purpose, fluoride is typically synthesized in labs and then added to drinking water, toothpaste, mouthwashes, and chemical products.
Why is fluoride added to drinking water?
In the early 1930s, scientists discovered a direct correlation between people in areas with naturally fluoridated water and reduced number of cavities. Because numerous studies show that a low level of fluoride in water reduces tooth decay, many places around the world began adding fluoride to their city’s drinking water.
How can I find out if my drinking water has fluoride in it?
If you have access to city water and are billed by a local water system, you can contact your community water distrct to inquire about the level of fluoride in your water. If you use single-family well water, you or your local health district can test the water.
How does fluoride help my teeth?
There are 3 main ways fluoride helps your teeth:
- Fluoride restores your teeth through remineralization.
Remineralization is the process in which a tooth restores itself in the early stages of tooth decay. Fluoride found in your saliva adheres to the surface of the tooth and attracts other minerals to the problem area, including calcium.
- Fluoride helps to make a tooth more resistant to decay.
When fluoride is present during remineralization, it creates the mineral fluorapatite to restore the tooth, instead of the usual minerals, hydroxyapatite and carbonated hydroxyapatite. Fluorapatite is more resistant to tooth decay caused by acids than the other minerals, so the newly restored tooth can fight off a repeat occurrence of decay.
- Fluoride interferes with cavity-causing bacteria.
When you take a bite of food, bacteria in your mouth feed on the sugar found in the food and produce a byproduct of acid, the main culprit in tooth decay. Fluoride slows down the rate at which bacteria can metabolize sugars, resulting in less acid production.
Who needs fluoride?
Almost all public health officials recommend that children and adults receive a certain level of fluoride, as everyone can benefit from it. Fluoride helps protect children’s permanent teeth as they come in and then continue to battle tooth decay in later years.
Those that are more prone to tooth decay benefit the greatest from fluoride treatment. These includes people with:
- Poor or excessive snacking habits
- Poor dental hygiene
- No (or little) access to dental care
- Diets that are high in sugars
- A history of cavities
- Bridges, crowns, braces, or other appliances that make it hard to reach certain areas to brush
Can fluoride be bad for you?
As with most things in life, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” Excessive exposure to fluoride causes fluorosis, a condition where teeth are discolored or spotted with brown markings. The enamel turns rough and pitted, making it even harder to clean the teeth. Fluorosis generally occurs in young kids while their teeth are forming, but it can happen to any age.
Additionally, as it came to light that cities were treating our water before sending it along to our sinks, people began to question why we were given fluoride without the government consulting with us first. Generally, fluoride is viewed as a good thing, but some studies have found consequences of fluoride exposure:
- Fluoride may lower IQ. In 2012, Harvard scientists published a study that suggested that fluoride may lower IQ in children.
- In 2011, the US Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that they wanted to set the recommended level of fluoride to the lowest end of the optimal range, which caused some raised eyebrows for people who wondered why these departments suddenly changed their minds. Previously, they recommended 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. Now, they suggest 0.78 milligrams with no upper limit.
- Several groups dispute the benefits of fluoride on dental health. Many believe that fluoride is a poison and should be avoided at all levels.
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