Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found both in fresh and sea water. It is also found in plants, soil and many foods.
Fluoride in Toothpaste
Sugar does not damage your teeth, bacteria do. Our mouths naturally contain hundreds of bacteria, many of which are essential to the oral ecosystem. However, certain decay-causing bacteria react with sugar resulting in the formation of acid. The acid attacks the outer layer of the tooth called the enamel, which protects against tooth decay. Repeated exposure to the acid destroys the enamel, forming a cavity.
Fluoride is widely used in toothpaste. It helps protect against dental cavities through the following actions:
• Fluoride reacts with the mineral in our teeth and fortifies them against the acid.
• It helps repair the early stages of tooth decay, by increasing the process by which minerals are put back into the enamel.
• It can reduce the activity of the bacteria by limiting their ability to grow and attack the teeth.
Water fluoridation is a process where fluoride is added to the public water supply to reduce tooth decay. This was introduced in the United States in 1945. Water fluoridation has been supported by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association.
Water fluoridation was established in the UK in 1964. According to the NHS, around 5.8 million people in England receive fluoridated water.
Fluorosis is caused by excessive intake of fluoride for a prolonged period of time.
Dental fluorosis is characterised by visual changes in the appearance of the teeth. At its mild forms, it is only a cosmetic problem. However, in more severe cases it results in brown stains and weakened teeth. Dental fluorosis occurs during childhood while the teeth are forming. Children that consume a large amount of fluoride are at higher risk of developing this condition.
Skeletal Fluorosis is a condition caused by excessive accumulation of fluoride on the bones. Its symptoms include stiffening of joints. Skeletal fluorosis is most common in countries such as India and China, where the groundwater contains high levels of fluoride.
Over the past decades, the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation have been a subject of debate. There have been several claims that fluoride can lead to bone fractures, impaired brain development and contribute to bone cancer. However, our current scientific evidence do not support these claims.
Is Fluoride Good for You?
Like all chemicals, if consumed in high level, fluoride can have adverse effects on one’s health. People living in places such as China and India, where water naturally has a higher concentration of fluoride are at higher risk. In countries that it is deliberately added in drinkable water, the amount of fluoride is very strictly regulated.
Toothpaste using fluoride is both safe and successful in preventing tooth decay. Water fluoridation has been beneficial for society and especially for those who couldn’t afford personal dental health. However, the need for water fluoridation today is still debatable.