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Fluoride and Fluoridated Water


What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral, part of sodium fluoride, abundant here on Earth. Its significance, however, was not found until the 1930s. 

Since then, the American Medical Association and World Health Organization have strongly recommended fluoridated water to reduce tooth decay. In addition to your fluoride toothpaste, there are other topical applications like varnishes, gels, and mouth rinses to protect your teeth.

The use of fluoride in dentistry dates back to the early 1900s. Frederick McKay, a dentist, found that several natives in Colorado (almost 90 percent) had severe brown staining on their teeth. This issue later became recognized as Colorado Brown Stain.

After noticing this rare occurrence, McKay began his collaboration with another dentist, G.V. Black. Through their collaboration, they began to uncover more about this rare disease. Using thorough research, the two dentists came up with two precious discoveries:

  • The brown stains were the result of a condition known as fluorosis. This condition occurs due to overexposure of fluoride.
  • Affected people had teeth that were strangely resistant to tooth decay.

Dentist McKay eventually figured out the root of this brown staining. It turns out this was due to a water supply rich in fluoride. This isn’t surprising as there were considerable natural fluoride deposits in the Western U.S. at the time.

Fluoride in Dentistry

A 15-year fluoridation study of the Grand Rapids waters took place in the 1940’s. At the time of the study, many researchers kept track of the tooth decay rate among nearly thirty thousand school children in Grand Rapids. An incredible discovery was made 11 years into the study. The cavity rate was sixty-percent lower among kids born after fluoridation started in Grand Rapids.

Due to the success of this experiment, states agreed to move forward with public water fluoridation systems to decrease cavities. Thus, fluoride has since become vital to shield the teeth from acid-causing bacteria in the mouth.

Different forms of fluoride therapy include:

  • Toothpaste: Most toothpaste has fluoride. They contain about 0.22% fluoride to help prevent cavities.
  • Water fluoridation: Most states add fluoride to the water supply to reduce cavities. Hawaii is one of the few states that does not have fluoridated water.
  • Gel: Those at a higher risk for cavities can benefit from gels. Gels are recommended sometimes if you have a decreased salivary flow too. Gels have the same consistency as toothpaste, and some are available for home applications. To know more about these products, don’t hesitate to consult your dentist.
  • Mouthwash: Mouthwash contains fluoride to help strengthen your teeth and reduce tooth decay risks. It also has antibacterial components to fight off bacteria due to plaque formation. Additionally, it can reduce bad mouth odor.
  • Varnish: This is applied directly to your teeth using a brush, and it sets after a few seconds. It aims to protect your teeth from bacteria that may cause serious gum problems.

Fluoride fortifies your teeth against decay

In her article for Parents, Rebecca Felsenthal notes that tooth decay is more common in young children “than any other chronic illness,” such as “asthma and diabetes.” Many factors might contribute to this, such as the amount of sugar in the standard American diet and the increasing ubiquity of fluoride-less bottled water. If the child’s parents are prone to cavities, they might pass on oral bacteria to their kids by sharing eating implements or toothbrushes.

How do cavities form?. Cavities, in a nutshell, are portions of the tooth that collapsed. These areas usually lack calcium due to bacteria eating away at it. The more harmful bacteria you have in your mouth, the more likely you are to get a cavity. These germs also love sugar, which is why individuals with high-sugar diets are more susceptible to tooth decay than others.

Normal amounts of fluoride help prevent cavities by strengthening your teeth. When you get fluoride from food or brushing your teeth, it returns the minerals your teeth lost, reversing the decaying process. More than that, however, it also binds to other minerals in your teeth—such as phosphate and calcium—making it harder for bacteria to penetrate the teeth.

Is Fluoride Safe?

Several reports have been circulated all through the globe about the safety and efficiency of fluoride. In fact, after long years of careful research, the scientific conclusion is that fluoridated water and toothpaste are key to overall oral health.

Fluoride helps minimize cavities and generally causes no dangerous effects on a person’s overall wellness. Research has not unveiled proof that fluoride added to water causes no detrimental adverse effects if used correctly.

On the other hand, those opposed to fluoridation claim that fluoride added to water is damaging. However, in the correct amounts and used adequately, fluoride is 100% safe.

However, there are cases where fluoride may be potentially damaging:

Excessive use can cause fluorosis. In turn, it produces bone and dental anomalies. Also, keep in mind the below:

  • There may be an acute poisoning by accidental ingestion of insecticides or rodenticides with fluoride salts that can cause death.
  • Excess fluoride intake is toxic and can cause fluorosis as it weakens the enamel (causing more caries). It also weakens our bones (decalcification and osteoporosis).
  • Too much fluoride can discolor or stain your teeth long-term.
  • Especially between 1-and-a-half and 3-years-old, children do not fully understand the act of brushing teeth. Thus, usually the child swallows toothpaste, increasing their maximum daily dose of fluoride. For that reason, introduce fluoride toothpaste later for your child.

The optimal fluoride levels in water is 0.7 parts per million (1 ppm). This is equivalent to 0.7 milligrams of fluoride in 1 liter of water. 

Benefits of Fluoride

Fluoride is beneficial for all age groups as it…

  • Increases the resistance of enamel to dental caries
  • Assists young, developing secondary teeth
  • Minimize the amount of acid the bacteria present on the teeth produce
  • Promotes “remineralization” and facilitates entry into the structure of calcium and phosphate ions. This is because the fluoride holds a negative charge and attracts calcium and phosphate positively.
  • It has antibacterial properties that attack the bacteria colonizing on the tooth surface.
  • Fluoride helps where there is a deficit in calcium and Vitamin D. It helps treat osteoporosis and solidifies bones.
  • If a person requires special oral care, fluoride treatments are even more valuable. Any person who wears braces must also receive fluoride treatments regularly. In turn, this can impede bacteria from getting stuck beneath the wires.

Introducing Fluoride to Your Infant Safely

Consult a physician or a dentist before using toothpaste and always help your child when brushing. Children cannot brush their teeth by themselves until they can mop an entire floor without missing spots. 

With the right encouragemenet, your infant will grow into a young child with healthy pearly whites. 

How can I know if my child has enough fluoride?

You can’t. You can do the closest thing to ensure that they have enough of it by monitoring what they intake—do they drink enough fluoridated water? Are they getting enough of it in their meals? Does their toothpaste have fluoride? Just make sure you don’t overdo it. 

But while you might not be able to pinpoint whether your child has enough, your dentist certainly can. Since it affects the teeth, babies don’t need to make the appointment until they’re six months old. During that time, your pediatric dentist will tell whether your little one might need to up their fluoride intake, often by the plaque building up their gums. During the visit, your dentist could also prescribe a plan of action to prevent further complications. In the meantime, good old dental hygiene is enough to tame the tides ‘til then.

10 Fluoride Facts

FACT #1 Fluoride naturally occurs in water. When at the optimal level, it will protect and whiten the teeth. The recommended amount of fluoride in water is 0.7 milligrams per liter.

FACT #2 Fluoridation can be practiced by anyone. The United States was the first country to fluoridate its water. The U.S.’s Center for Disease Control considers it one of the “top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century.” 

FACT #3 The reduction in tooth decay is not primarily dependent on water fluoridation. In the United States, the decrease in the number of people who suffer from tooth decay is often attributed to water fluoridation. However, the same decline has happened in several other countries that do not fluoridate their water.

FACT #4 Many tissues in the body, not just the teeth, are affected by fluoride. It also affects your bones, thyroid gland, pineal gland, blood sugar levels, and your brain. Too much fluoride is associated with several health conditions, such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Bone disorders
  • Thyroid disease
  • Dementia
  • Low intelligence/IQ
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Muscle disorders
  • Bone cancer
  • Increased lead absorption
  • Thyroid disease arthritis
  • Bone fractures
  • Lowered thyroid function
  • Disrupted immune system
  • Damaged sperm or increased infertility
  • Increased tumor and cancer rate

FACT #5 Water fluoridation is a natural series of chemical operations. Fluorosilicic acid, the compound used to add fluoride to water in the U.S., is not what most people consider natural. It’s a biting acid that is caught in devices that control air pollution. Fluorosilicic acid is being captured because the gases are very harmful air pollutants, and it can cause severe environmental harm. This is risky and could even lead to cancer.

FACT #6 Fluoride exposure is essential for infants and children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). When used to prevent and control cavities, it can be very safe and effective. Just be cautious about overexposure, which can cause dental fluorosis.

FACT #7 Most vitamin supplements can be bought over the counter, but not fluoride supplements (for prevention of tooth decay). A doctor’s prescription is necessary for supplements.

FACT #8 Fluoride is the only medicine added to public water.

FACT #9 Teeth do not benefit as much when one swallows fluoride. Research shows that it is most beneficial when it is in direct contact with teeth. Direct ingestion through drinking fluoridated water or taking pills is still beneficial, but not in the same ways.

FACT #10 Fluoride can greatly benefit countries where access to dental care is more difficult.

Although fluoride is the main component that improves our dental health, it’s still important to understand everything about it to avoid its harmful effects.

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