Three different colored regular toothbrushes laying together

Your Guide to Fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally occurring compound that exists in the soil and in many water sources.  

Fluoride is intentionally included in municipal water to protect the health of your teeth. Back in the 1930s, scientists realized that populations where water sources had naturally-occurring fluoride had roughly 2/3 fewer cavities than those whose water didn’t have fluoride. Tests were performed on several urban populations in Michigan, and soon many cities were adding fluoride.

These days, fluoridated water is common. Those who drink well water are often prescribed fluoride supplements to help reduce the risk of tooth decay. Currently, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the American Dental Association all endorse the addition of fluoride to water to help reduce cavities. The most important time for the use of fluoride is during early life, between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. It can help protect both baby teeth and permanent adult teeth, setting the basis for a lifelong dental health.

How Does Fluoride Help Protect Your Teeth?

Your teeth are made up of a number of different minerals. These include calcium, fluoride and phosphorus. When you eat or drink acidic or abrasive things, your teeth can be demineralized. This is a process where your teeth are weakened because necessary minerals are leached from the tooth surface. Some of these minerals are naturally replaced by things we eat and drink. However, if the loss outpaces the replacement, tooth damage and decay can occur. Supplemental fluoride works in two ways. It protects teeth against the effects of acid and also helps reverse early tooth damage.

Basically, fluoride helps to strengthen and harden the outer layer of your teeth, called the enamel. When your teeth naturally remineralize after eating, the presence of fluoride also helps ensure that the calcium and phosphorus being added back to your teeth is as strong as possible. Fluoride in water or in chewable supplement form offers the most significant boost for healthy teeth and stronger enamel.

Does Consuming Fluoride Cause Side Effects?

Too much fluoride can be toxic, so it’s important for parents to supervise small children who use toothpaste with fluoride and to keep fluoride tabs out of easy reach. Additionally, too much fluoride can cause cosmetic issues on tooth enamel. It can start as small white specks or streaks and can eventually turn into brown splotches. This is most common in people who experience excess fluoride exposure while teeth are still growing. Thankfully, your dentist can help correct these cosmetic issues.

Do You Need Fluoride Supplements?

Most people in the United States (as many as 70 percent) live in areas where the local water supply is already fluoridated. In the Seattle area, water has been fluoridated by the city since 1970. Several nearby municipalities purchase water from Seattle treatment plants. If you are unsure about the source of your water, do some online research (or ask your dentist) to determine if it is fluoridated. If it isn’t, you should speak with your dentist to see if supplements are right for you. While they aren’t often prescribed to adults, a fluoride supplement for young children could positively impact their overall oral health in the future.

In addition, some medical conditions are correlated with increased tooth decay. People who suffer from these conditions should also speak with their dentist to consider supplemental fluoride or a special fluoride treatment. Gum disease, conditions or medications that cause dry mouth (such as allergy medications or anti-anxiety drugs), and a history of many cavities could make you an ideal candidate for fluoride treatments.

Still stumped on fluoride? Talk to your dentist at your next visit!