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What is Flouride and Why Do We Need It?

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Fluoride—the earth’s 13th most abundant element—is found naturally in soil, plant life and processed foods. Fluoride has been added to our tap water since the 1940s to prevent common tooth decay. Research has found that people who grew up drinking naturally fluoridated water had up to two-thirds fewer cavities than people living in areas without the increased rate of fluoride. Fluoride has come under some controversy after studies found high cancer rates associated with over consumption of the mineral. Still, the American Dental Association, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have all endorsed fluoride as an effective preventative to tooth decay.

How Does Fluoride Work?

Fluoride works during the demineralization and remineralization processes that naturally occur in your mouth, helping repair the early stages of tooth decay. After you eat, your saliva contains acids that cause demineralization, a dissolving of the calcium and phosphorous under the tooth's surface. Other times, saliva is less acidic, working to replenish the calcium and phosphorous that helps keep teeth strong and healthy. When fluoride is present during this process, mineral deposits become harder than usual, helping to strengthen teeth and prevent future decay.

Fluoride helps prevent cavities in several ways. It concentrates in the growing bones and the developing teeth of young children, helping to harden baby teeth before they surface. The mineral also helps harden the enamel on adult teeth that have already emerged. In addition to these benefits, Fluoride also bonds with existing tooth enamel, making it more cavity-resistant by helping prevent bacterial plaque’s ability to produce acid by-products that promote tooth decay, as well as helping repair the early stages of tooth decay.

Tooth decay occurs when plaque—sticky bacteria that accumulates on the teeth—breaks down sugars in food. The acids produced by these bacteria dissolve the hard enamel surface of the teeth. If the damage goes untreated, the bacteria can penetrate the enamel causing tooth decay, and cavities. Cavities weaken teeth and can lead to pain, tooth loss, or even widespread infection in severe cases.

Fluoride also works to help prevent sensitivity due to gum recession and natural wear by helping protect the area from acid-producing bacteria. Fluoride can be used to restrain bleeding and sustain treatment for many forms of gum disease.

Are you getting enough Fluoride? If your community’s drinking water is fluoridated and you are brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste, you are most likely receiving a sufficient amount of fluoride. However, if you live an area where the water is not pumped with an adequate amount of fluoride, your dentist can prescribe fluoride tablets or drops as a daily supplement. Your dentist can tell you how much fluoride is right for you and your family.

Overexposure to Fluoride:
As with most medications, including vitamins and mineral supplements, it is possible to take in a harmful amount of fluoride. Too much fluoride at an early age can lead to enamel fluorosis, a discoloration or mottling of the permanent teeth. Most cases are due to inappropriate use of fluoride-containing dental products, including toothpaste and mouth rinses.

Additional Resources:

Colgate
IN.gov
Kids Health

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