Fluoride is effective in preventing and reversing the early signs of dental caries (tooth decay). Researchers have shown that there are several ways through which fluoride achieves its decay-preventive effects. It makes the tooth structure stronger, so teeth are more resistant to acid attacks. Acid is formed when the bacteria in plaque break down sugars and carbohydrates from the diet. Repeated acid attacks break down the tooth, which causes cavities. Fluoride also acts to repair, or remineralize, areas in which acid attacks have already begun. The remineralization effect of fluoride is important because it reverses the early decay process as well as creating a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay.
Fluoride is a safe compound found throughout nature-from the water we drink and air we breathe, to many kinds of foods. Fluoride is absorbed into structures, such as bones and teeth, making them stronger and more resistant to fractures and decay. A process in your body called “remineralization” uses fluoride to repair damage caused by decay.
Health professionals have endorsed the practice of supplementing our intake with certain dietary products, and topical fluorides in many toothpastes and some kinds of rinses. Certain beverages such as tea and soda may also contain fluoride. Certain kinds of dental varnishes and gels may also be applied directly to teeth to boost fluoride intake.
It is generally not safe to swallow toothpastes, rinses, or other products containing topical fluoride. In rare cases, some people may be overexposed to high concentrations of fluoride, resulting in a relatively harmless condition called fluorosis, which leaves dark enamel stains on teeth.
Water fluoridation is a very sensitive issue, because most dental experts agree that fluoride is safe for use. Research indicates that the rate of cavities in areas where the water is fluoridated decreases significantly compared to areas where fluoride is not added to the water — but does that outweigh the risks involved with fluoride use? Many believe that it causes health concerns ranging from dental fluorosis to neurological disorders. Others believe that fluoride is a beneficial additive to the water supply.
For more information about the oral health benefits of fluoride, just ask our dentist.