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What is Fluoride, and Why Does It Matter?

Written by Valley Oak Dental Group on . Posted in Dental Tips

You’ve likely heard about fluoride your whole life, especially in a dental context. You’ve heard about fluoride treatments, fluoride toothpaste, and fluoridated water. Dentists seem to recommend it. However, you may not know what exactly fluoride is or why it’s so important to your teeth.

On the other hand, you may have heard that fluoride is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Many people are opposed to water fluoridation and deny that fluoride has any benefits. While it is true that fluoride can have adverse health effects, when used at recommended levels, it can protect your teeth and strengthen your bones.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is an ion of the chemical fluorine and most often occurs as a salt. Many people are exposed to it naturally through the water they drink and the food they eat, but natural fluoride levels aren’t consistent around the world.

Fluoride matters to humans because it strengthens teeth and bones and prevents tooth decay. Because fluoride is a mineral, it bonds with your tooth enamel, hardening it and repairing damage.

No matter how well you brush and floss, your enamel will weaken or wear away over time and as a natural part of aging. Fluoride can reverse some of your enamel loss, which makes it harder for cavities to form.

A lack of fluoride leads to weak bones and increased cavities, so doctors recommend that adults get between three and four milligrams of fluoride a day. This small amount can easily be achieved by following your daily oral care routine.

Where Can I Find Fluoride?

Some foods and drinks, such as tea, contain fluoride. Tea leaves absorb excess fluoride in their environment, transferring the mineral to you when you enjoy a cup of your favorite hot beverage. A cup of black tea will give you about 10 percent of your fluoride requirement for the day.

Another great source of fluoride is seafood since ocean water contains high fluoride deposits. Other foods like fruits and vegetables that grew with fluoridated water also contain trace amounts of the mineral. However, most people get their daily recommended dose from drinking water and using fluoridated toothpaste.

Although fluoride is naturally present in water, the amount varies, which means that some areas receive more than the recommended dose, while others don’t receive enough fluoride. To counteract these variable levels, 25 countries, including the United States, recommend supplementing the national water supply with fluoride. Other countries provide fluoride to citizens by adding it to table salt.

You can also apply fluoride topically through toothpaste and dentist-administered fluoride treatments. These options have the most immediate effect on your teeth. Most commercial toothpaste contains trace amounts of fluoride, just enough to give your enamel a boost. But, you can get prescription toothpaste that contains more fluoride if you need to take in extra fluoride.

When you receive fluoride treatments, your dentist might use a gel or foam tray or a varnish. In each case, the treatments contain a much higher fluoride concentration than toothpaste or enhanced water, so you’ll only need one or two treatments a year.

Will Fluoride Harm Me?

Many people worry that consuming fluoride or using fluoridated toothpaste will lead to fluoride poisoning and permanent damage. It’s true that fluoride is toxic in high doses and can lead to bone deformities. However, according to the World Health Organization, fluoride only becomes dangerous when ingested at levels of 1.5 milligrams per liter.

In other words, fluoride can hurt your health if you ingest around 100 mg a day. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends community drinking water in the United States contain 0.7 milligrams per liter. These numbers are far below harmful levels and in line with the amount found to benefit teeth.

However, fluoride does pose more of a risk to children. Since the toxicity of fluoride depends on the weight of the individual, the smaller you are, the easier it is to ingest harmful levels. If you want your children to avoid ingesting too much fluoride, use only tiny amounts of fluoridated toothpaste to clean your child’s teeth until they turn three. Otherwise, drinking fluoridated water is fine, and even necessary, for developing strong teeth.

If you live in a neighborhood with fluoridated water and you regularly brush your teeth, you don’t need to worry about getting any additional supplementation (beyond annual dental treatments.) Contact your local water provider to see if your water contains fluoride. If it doesn’t, talk to your dentist about what your other options are.

Fluoride sometimes has a bad reputation, and you may be hesitant to expose yourself to this mineral. However, the WHO and the CDC both recognize the importance of fluoride to human health, particularly for those prone to tooth decay or brittle bones.

Talk to a dentist at Valley Oak Dental Group for more information about fluoride and whether you might be at risk for tooth decay.