Fluoride is a mineral that exists naturally in rocks, water, and soil, and is the 13th most abundant element in the earth’s crust. The fluoride that is added to our water supply and food comes from phosphorite rock and contributes to the constant cycle of weakening and rebuilding of tooth enamel that extends throughout our lifetime.
Fluoride is made up of calcium, phosphorus, hydrogen, and oxygen and works by binding to our teeth on a molecular level. Fluoride replaces the main calcium phosphate mineral naturally found in teeth and makes them more resistant to acid attacks from bacteria, and helps the enamel rebuild.
Ways to Add Fluoride
Topical fluoride – strengthens the teeth once they have erupted by seeping into the outer surface of the tooth enamel, making the teeth more resistant to decay. We gain topical fluoride by using fluoride-containing dental products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses, and gels. Dentists and dental hygienists generally recommend that children have a professional application of fluoride twice a year during dental check-ups.
Systemic fluoride – strengthens the teeth that have erupted in addition to those that are still developing beneath the gums. When needed, fluoride can be prescribed by your dentist or physician. We also obtain systemic fluoride from the foods we eat and community water supplies. You can also find it as a supplement in health food stores and add it to bottled water that contains no fluoride. It is, however, very important to monitor the amounts of fluoride a child ingests and not provide more than the recommended dosage. If too much fluoride is consumed while the teeth are developing, it can cause fluorosis, or small white spots, to appear.
When Fluoride Treatment is Recommended
While most people receive fluoride from food and water, it is sometimes not enough to prevent tooth decay. Your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend the use of home and professional fluoride treatments for the following reasons:
- Inadequate exposure to fluorides
- Fair to poor oral hygiene habits
- Frequent sugar and carbohydrate intake
- Recent history of dental decay
- Deep pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth
- Exposed and sensitive root surfaces
- Inadequate saliva flow due to medical conditions, medical treatments or medications
Foods that contain fluoride include seafood, potatoes, raisins. Tea, wine and grape juice also have the mineral, but most of the time there is less than one-hundredth of a gram in these produces and too low to produce any adverse side effects.
Chronic over-exposure of fluoride can lead to fluoride-induced thyroid disease, autism, learning disabilities, blood disorders, or osteoporosis. There is mixed information to back up these claims, but at this time, the American Dental Association and the U.S. Public Health Organization consider fluoride supplementation to be beneficial and safe when consumed in recommended amounts. For adult women that is 3 mg per day, for men 4 mg, and children and toddlers, it is 0.7 mg daily. Although fluoride is a beneficial supplement, there is no indication that you could experience serious consequences from fluoride deficiency.
Fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay! It is most effective when added to brushing at least twice a day, flossing regularly, eating healthy foods, avoiding excess sugary snacks, and visiting your dental professional regularly. If you are concerned amount the amount of fluoride you or your children are consuming, consult with your pediatrician or your dental professional.