Content reviewed by the dentists and staff at our Kingsway office.
Researchers began exploring the connection between dental health and fluoride in the early twentieth century. Communities throughout North America began fluoridating their water supplies in 1950. One of the first areas in the world that introduced water fluoridation to the community as a public health initiative for reducing tooth decay was Ontario.
What Fluoride Is and its Role in Dental Health
So, what is fluoride and do you need it?
Fluoride is a mineral you find in both salt and fresh water, soil and numerous foods. In weighing the pros and cons of fluoride for teeth, researchers and dentists have found fluoride provides positive effects on dental health because it makes teeth more resistant to decay. It also can prevent tooth decay or even reverse it.
The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) supports using fluoride in dentistry appropriately as one highly successful preventative health measure in the health care history. More than 50 years of extensive research worldwide has consistently shown the effectiveness and safety of fluoride in preventing tooth decay.
When you ingest it, fluoride becomes part of your tooth structures during the formation of your teeth. It also offers topical protection. Fluoride, when ingested, is retained in your saliva, surrounding your teeth continually. This preventative measure is particularly essential for the aging baby-boomer population which is susceptible to aging-related dental diseases like root decay.
Do You Need Fluoride?
Fluoride is found in most toothpaste already. Although health authorities acknowledge fluoride as being a cavity blocker, you’ll find statements from alternative medicine advocates and “natural” toothpaste marketers that toothpaste free of fluoride also prevent cavities. Dental authorities don’t agree.
Brushing your teeth alone won’t stop decay. Your teeth require fluoride, according to the British Dental Association’s scientific adviser and the University of Birmingham’s dentistry professor, Damien Walmsley.
When researchers statistically evaluated the studies, the analysis showed there wasn’t any substantial cavity reduction from just brushing and flossing your teeth without fluoride.
What Does Fluoride Do and How Does It Work?
Fluoride not only protects your teeth from decay, but it also helps to reduce acid-related enamel wear. Certain acidic foods, such as salad dressings, fruit juices and tomatoes, can dissolve the enamel of your teeth daily.
Children and adults should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes each session to help with acid erosion prevention. You can counteract acid attacks to your teeth by using fluoride products in your everyday oral hygiene routine.
Who Requires Extra Fluoride?
Various situations may require extra fluoride protection, including:
- Taking prescription medications: Many prescription medicines reduce saliva flow, creating a dry mouth. A saliva reduction can increase your risk of cavities.
- Having gum recession: Gum recession is common in adults, exposing part of your tooth’s root surface. These areas are softer than the top of your tooth’s hard enamel, making them more vulnerable to decay.
- Getting restorative work: Adults often require restorative work like bridges or crowns. Fluoride helps protect these restoration’s margins, ultimately protecting your investment.
- Getting orthodontic treatment: Many adults these days opt for orthodontic braces. Braces create a challenge for good oral hygiene maintenance. Fluoride keeps your teeth strong and free of cavities, even when you have an orthodontic appliance obstacle.
- Having sensitive teeth: Fluoride also helps with the increasing issue of sensitive teeth. High acidic food and beverage diets, increased use of whitening products and gum recession can all produce sensitive teeth. Having a fluoride treatment can help re-mineralize your tooth enamel, reducing this sensitivity.
- Getting radiation treatment: Individuals who undergo cancer-related radiation treatment can also benefit from a topical fluoride application. Radiation causes damage to saliva glands, thereby decreasing saliva flow. Your saliva acts like a buffer between your teeth and the food and beverages you consume. Once again, when you have less saliva, it can greatly increase your risk of cavities.
Children’s teeth also need fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent tooth decay. That’s why dentists often directly apply topical fluoride to children’s teeth following routine dental cleanings.
How Much Fluoride Do You Need?
While fluoride is important for your teeth, too much is not good. You can call your local health unit or local water company to find out how much fluoride is in the water you drink. If you own a well, your local health unit can come and test your water and let you know if there’s sufficient fluoride in the water or if you should supplement with another fluoride source.
The recommended fluoride amount in Canada for drinking water is 0.7 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Careful monitoring and reliable equipment help maintain these levels of fluoride. Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality state the maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) is 1.5 mg/L. Whether fluoride is added during the water or naturally occurring, fluoride levels shouldn’t go over this limit.
Before individual patients or populations embark on a certain fluoride delivery method, the availability of fluoride from some sources needs to be taken into account. This is especially important for children under six years old where exposure to more fluoride than recommended for preventing dental decay may cause dental fluorosis. Fluoride is an essential health measure in maintaining oral health, provided people monitor their total daily fluoride intake carefully.
What Are the Benefits of Fluoride for Dental Health?
Over the past 70 years, authorities have adjusted the levels of fluoride in Canada’s drinking water. Extensive research over the decades shows water fluoridation is effective, safe and a low-cost way of improving oral health in all individuals of all ages.
Research shows children who drink fluoridated water should have up to 35 percent less decay than children who drink water without fluoride. Kids who drink fluoridated water develop strong teeth. When they become adults, they’ll have fewer missing teeth and cavities. Adults can expect less tooth decay when they drink fluoridated water.
Fluoride, as a public health measure, has been thoroughly studied and deemed safe in low doses. Scientific studies since the 1940s have found fluoride use for oral health to have no harmful effects.
Many organizations endorse water fluoridation as a beneficial and valuable public health measure. Some of these organizations include:
- Health Canada
- The Canadian Dental Association
- The Canadian Public Health Association
- The Canadian Pediatric Society
- The Canadian Medical Association
- The World Health Organization
Scientific studies have shown fluoride to lower the acid amount in your mouth, strengthen tooth enamel and rebuild minerals that help strengthen teeth.
Where Do You Get Fluoride From?
Throughout the world, fluoride exists naturally. Food and water contain it to some extent, so all people are ingesting some fluoride every day. It’s also added to drinking water at optimal levels in communities as a public health measure.
Water suppliers must test the fluoride levels in water. They should make the results of these tests available to the public. If you have a domestic or private well, you should also have a thorough chemical analysis done, including fluoride testing.
1. Toothpaste and Mouth Rinses
The CDA acknowledges and supports using fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse to prevent tooth decay. Starting tooth brushing early has been linked with lack of colonization by bacteria mainly responsible for cavities.
Children between birth and 3 years old should have an adult brush their teeth and gums. Using fluoride toothpaste in this age group is determined by risk level. You should consult with a dental professional to find out if your child is at risk of tooth decay development by the time they reach three years old. Children between 3 and 6 years old should have an adult “assist” them in brushing their teeth. They should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
Fluoridated mouth rinses can be used by “at risk” individuals as an effective preventive measure and should be used based on the individual’s specific needs.
2. Fluoride Supplements
Fluoride supplements like lozenges, chewable tablets or drops aren’t recommended for many Canadians. But, health and dental professionals might prescribe fluoride supplements to patients who are at high risk of decay and live in non-fluoridated communities where they can’t obtain fluoride in other forms like toothpaste. They’ll first need to complete a comprehensive analysis of their fluoride intake.
Are There Any Side Effects to Fluoride?
Although water fluoridation is known for its oral health benefits, it is still a controversial subject in some communities. When there’s a public health measure that causes concern or confusion, the responsible action is to do research and understand the facts.
Systematic reviews of fluoridation research look for all studies deliberately, including ones about potential negative effects. Individuals can consider reports challenging fluoridation along with research supporting fluoridation as effective, safe and economical. Systematic reviews take a look at the amount of research done and the quality level of the research. Because of this, systematic reviews are good sources to turn to for true scientific facts.
If your child requires more fluoride, the pediatric dentist might recommend supplements. Be sure you only use the supplements as the dentist directs. Keep them out of your child’s reach. Too much fluoride can stain your child’s teeth and can be toxic — this depends on your child’s weight.
For a 3-year-old child, a lethal fluoride dose is 500 milligrams — less for infants or younger children. Keep all fluoride products like toothpaste and mouthwash away from kids.
Fluoride is beneficial to your teeth. However, when you have too much fluoride, it can lead to two possible health effects — dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis.
1. Dental Fluorosis
This condition changes the appearance of your tooth enamel, causing small white spots on your teeth. Dental fluorosis only occurs if you ingested too much fluoride as a young child when your permanent teeth under your gums were still developing. You can’t get this condition after your permanent teeth have already grown in.
Dental fluorosis is classified based on severity levels from normal to severe. It’s only a cosmetic outcome in its mild form and doesn’t affect your dental health or overall health.
Fluorosis develops during a child’s first eight years while the outer enamel layer of their teeth is still growing. In severe, rare cases of stains due to too much fluoride, the dentist can remove the stains by bleaching the teeth or can bond resin fillings onto the teeth to cover up the stains.
Around 16 percent of children might have mild dental fluorosis, according to the Canadian Health Measures Survey. The number of children with moderate to severe is so low that it’s too low to report.
2. Skeletal Fluorosis
Skeletal fluorosis includes joint and bone hardening. It can occur when you have extremely high fluoride amounts in your bones. It can develop by ingesting extremely high levels of fluoride daily for an extended period. It’s very rare in Canada since we adjust our water to contain only low levels of fluoride, and we limit the amount of fluoride in our products.
Aside from these two conditions, there aren’t any other fluoride-related health effects.
Fluoride Use Precautions
The CDA acknowledges the availability of fluoride from numerous sources and the increased rate of dental fluorosis within communities. Because of this, the CDA offers these recommendations:
- Parents of young children and patients are encouraged to pay attention to their situations and become aware of their potential fluoride exposure.
- Provincial health departments need to inform health professionals and patients of the water fluoridation status in communities and areas.
- Parents of newborns who consume liquid or powdered concentrate infant formula as their primary source of nutrition should take special considerations. If they live in places where the level of fluoride in their drinking waters measures above the recommended label, they should consider giving their babies ready-to-feed formula or liquid or powdered concentrate formula made with fluoride-free or low fluoride concentration water.
- Parents should monitor their young children’s tooth brushing and show them how to use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on their toothbrush to help reduce swallowing.
- Patients and health professionals should review the potential fluoride exposure of a patient whenever treatment involves another additional exposure option.
You should not skip your regular dental visits and dental treatments since your dentist can treat your teeth better with higher concentrations of fluoride. Schedule a fluoride treatment twice a year to help keep your teeth in good shape.
Schedule an Appointment at Dental Choice Today to Discuss Fluoride
Many patients can benefit from fluoride treatments. The use of fluoride toothpaste and regular dental visits can provide your teeth with regular protection. If you would like to learn more about fluoride, make an appointment with a Dental Choice dentist. During your visit, you can ask your dentist about recommended fluoride treatments to ensure your and your family’s teeth stay healthy and grow properly.
Visit our Kingsway office and learn more.
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