Is fluoride good or bad?
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not to use fluoride during your oral hygiene routine. So, what's the answer?
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in many foods and water. Dental experts put the mineral into a variety of toothpaste and mouthwash formulas, and its main goal is to strengthen tooth enamel. Fluoride, which has been used for more than 60 years, is safe for children and adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientifically speaking, fluoride is the No. 13 most abundant element on the earth's crust, and dental experts label the mineral as "nature's cavity fighter." According to the CDC, fluoride in proper amounts can prevent tooth decay.
What does fluoride do?
When you eat sugar and other carbohydrates, harmful bacteria naturally found in your mouth produce acid that removes minerals from the surface of the tooth. Fluoride helps to strengthen tooth surfaces and prevent cavities from developing.
More specifically, fluoride protects the teeth in two ways:
1. Protects from demineralization: Studies have proven that fluoride can protect teeth from acid-induced erosion. Think of soldiers fending off enemies from the wall of a military fort.
2. Remineralizes teeth: Not only does fluoride combat acids, it helps rebuild teeth even after a certain degree of erosion. If there is already some decay in teeth, fluoride accumulates and begins fortifying enamel. This process is called remineralization. You could think of soldiers replacing the bricks and mortar of the wall.
The American Dental Association recommends that both children and adults use fluoride toothpaste.
The anti-fluoride argument
The main reason why many people believe fluoride to be harmful is dosage.
When it comes to fluoride, the amount matters. Like other chemicals or minerals, fluoride can become toxic if used in excess. Thus, if ingested or accumulated at extremely high levels, over-toxicity can occur. But don't panic, this is no cause for alarm. By this definition, nearly anything could be considered poisonous. For example, drinking high amounts of water can even be deadly.
However, in small amounts, fluoride has been scientifically proven to prevent cavities and tooth decay.
Bad for kids?
Others worry that fluoride cause problems for children's teeth, leading to staining or pitting. The negative effects of dental fluorosis (damage to teeth) are seen mostly in places with extremely high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in drinking water. Dental fluorisis - when teeth have scattered white flecks, white spots or even rough pitted surfaces - is only caused by taking in too much fluoride over a long period when the teeth are forming under the gums. Thus, only children aged 8 years and younger can develop it.
The key is having access to the right amount of fluoride. According to the American Dental Association, children should begin using toothpaste with fluoride as soon as they get their first tooth.
"For half a century, the ADA has recommended that patients use fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities, and a review of scientific research shows that this holds true for all ages," Dr. Edmond Truelove, chairman of the ADA's Council on Scientific Affairs, said in a news release.
To help protect against dental caries (cavities), parents should use a smear (an amount about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste for children younger than 3 years old and a pea-sized dab for youngsters aged 3 to 6.
Community water fluoridation
Fluoride is commonly added to the public water supply in an effort to reduce the rate of cavities. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proven that for more than 65 years community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy option for helping fight tooth decay.
Further research has repeatedly shown that when fluoride is added to people's drinking water in areas where levels are low, tooth decay declines. The CDC reports that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent over a person's lifetime.
Today, more than 204 million people in the U.S. are served by public water supplies that contain enough fluoride to protect teeth.
To use or not to use fluoride
Experts suggest that you use dentist-recommended fluoride in your toothpaste.
Purchasing fluoride or non-fluoride toothpaste is an individual's choice. For those who are wary about fluoride, TheraBreath makes a non-fluoride version of regular toothpaste and Plus toothpaste. These products are only available online.