Brush, floss and avoid consuming lots of sugar. That’s the standard advice when it comes to keeping your teeth healthy and preventing decay. But for decades, dentists have relied on another tool, called fluoride, to help patients protect their oral hygiene.
Many people mistakenly believe fluoride is an artificial chemical added to their toothpaste. However, fluoride is derived from a naturally occurring element called fluorine found in plants, rocks, soil and water. It’s an ion of fluorine, meaning it combines with other elements to create the properties that keep your mouth healthy.
Is fluoride good for your teeth? Absolutely. In fact, fluoride may be the most important dental discovery in history. When applied in the correct dosage and used in the right way, it’s highly effective in preventing tooth decay, helping both children and adults maintain a healthy smile.
However, fluoride is often misunderstood. Sometimes, patients assume it’s just for children, or they think it’s a man-made chemical with harmful side effects. Others don’t realize they aren’t getting enough fluoride to protect their teeth. To enjoy fluoride’s benefits, you should understand the pros and cons of fluoride treatments and fluoride in general.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride comes from a natural element called fluorine found in natural elements like water. When combined with other elements, it becomes fluoride. Fluoride is added to numerous dental products and community water supplies due to its protection against tooth decay.
One common misconception is that fluoride is only necessary for children whose teeth are growing and developing. However, fluoride is just as important for adults — and in some cases, it can actually help regenerate damaged or worn enamel.
Because of its time-tested ability to prevent tooth decay, fluoride exists in many dental products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, tablets and drops. Fluoride also works as a professional topical treatment at regular dental checkups. Although fluoride does occur naturally in some water sources, you probably already know many communities add fluoride to their water supply to ensure fluoride exists in the water at the appropriate levels.
Note that while some people believe fluoride is unnatural or dangerous, that’s not the case. Like vitamin D, calcium and other minerals, fluoride is beneficial for your health when consumed or applied in moderation. Dentists in Canada have used fluoride since the 1940s, and continued research backs up its effectiveness.
The Benefits of Fluoride: How It Protects Your Teeth
The main purpose of fluoride is to keep your teeth’s enamel strong and protected.
Fluoride works to protect enamel, which is the hard outer layer of teeth. This area constantly encounters bacteria and acid created from the food and beverages you consume each day. When you eat products like sugary beverages, those sugars interact with the bacteria in your mouth to create acid that attacks your teeth.
This acid strips calcium and phosphate from the enamel, leaving the tooth vulnerable to cavities and decay. Over time, the enamel erodes to the point where it can no longer protect your teeth. Therefore, they’re more susceptible to cavities and decay, which can lead to pain and discomfort.
The saliva in your mouth is designed to remove acid trying to break down tooth enamel by washing it away. That’s where fluoride comes in. When you have fluoride in your saliva, your body can block the acid’s destructive properties in your mouth. As a result, the saliva prevents the acid from stripping away the enamel and leaving your teeth vulnerable to decay.
The fluoride combines with the calcium and phosphates in your enamel to stop the enamel from breaking down. It even helps to rebuild lost enamel. Thanks to fluoride, you can enjoy a healthy smile.
Should I Use Fluoride Toothpaste?
We’re often asked, “Does fluoride toothpaste work?” One of the easiest ways to enjoy fluoride’s daily protection is by brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. But when you spit out the toothpaste after you brush, it’s easy to think you spit out the fluoride, too. Fortunately, fluoride toothpaste works by preventing decay and improving enamel because it stays in your saliva even after brushing.
That said, it’s important to remember that just because fluoride occurs in nature doesn’t mean that it’s safe to consume in large quantities. Fluoride is poisonous when you ingest too much. To protect against overconsumption, you should remember these points:
- Follow the directions written on your toothpaste. Be careful to use the amount recommended on the label.
- Don’t swallow your toothpaste after you brush. Spit it out and then rinse your mouth.
- Children under the age of 6 should not use toothpaste that contains fluoride and should be taught proper brushing techniques to avoid ingesting fluoride.
When it comes to fluoride for teeth pros and cons, you can enjoy the pros as long as you remember these tips.
Is Fluoride-Free Toothpaste Effective?
There’s toothpaste for adults on the market that doesn’t contain fluoride. Often, patients wonder whether these are smart options. While some of these alternatives do contain ingredients that remove plaque and stains while preventing bacteria from harming enamel, they don’t offer the same tooth-strengthening ability.
If you opt to use a toothpaste without fluoride, it’s crucial to maintain proper brushing habits, limit consumption sugar consumption and schedule regular dental checkups to detect potential problems early. Adult patients should use a fluoride toothpaste in their daily oral care routine. If you have questions about using fluoride toothpaste, feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment.
This way, we can figure out the right products and treatments for your oral health situation.
Is Fluoride Dangerous to Children?
Fluoride is safe for children and adults when used correctly. However, preventing young children from swallowing toothpaste isn’t always easy. In some cases, it may leave children vulnerable to certain side effects. Many parents show concern over fluoride’s pros and cons, both in the office and at home. But the truth is that fluoride has numerous benefits that outweigh the rare negatives.
Some dentists will recommend children begin brushing with fluoride toothpaste between the ages of three and six, depending on their tooth decay risk. If the risk is low, their dentist may recommend waiting until they master the ability to brush and spit without swallowing toothpaste.
If your dentist recommends using a fluoride toothpaste for your child, start with pea-sized amounts. This way, your kids will get the fluoride’s protection, but they won’t ingest too much. Keep in mind that occasionally swallowing a little toothpaste won’t be harmful to children. If you keep an eye on them while they brush, you can help them use the correct amount.
The risk is small, but there’s a slight chance that a child who regularly swallows toothpaste with fluoride in it may develop dental fluorosis. It’s a condition where white spots develop on the enamel of a child’s permanent teeth when they grow. This issue only happens if they consumed too much fluoride before their permanent teeth came through the gumline. Fortunately, children are only at risk until age eight, as they can’t get dental fluorosis after their permanent teeth grow in.
If you live somewhere without a community water supply, talk with your dentist about fluoride supplements and whether your child will benefit from them in absence of fluoride in their water. They can advise you on the amount your child needs, as well as how to administer it. Supplements are available in tablet or liquid forms so children of all ages can consume them without difficulty.
It’s also important to note there’s no reason to worry if you’re preparing formula for an infant using fluoridated water. Community water supplies are properly adjusted so the amount of fluoride in the water will not harm an infant. Women who’re pregnant or breastfeeding also don’t need to worry about any effects on the fetus or infant when consuming water from a fluoridated supply.
Fluoride Use in Grande Prairie, Alberta
The Gateway Dentistry Group is a full-service dental practice providing dental care and oral surgery for children and adults of all ages. Our non-hospital surgical facility is accredited by the Alberta Dental Association and College, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
We offer numerous sedation options, including pediatric anesthesia. In addition to regular dental checkups and cleanings, we offer dental services for dental emergencies, dental implants, teeth whitening, wisdom teeth and extractions, periodontal surgery, crowns and bridges, sleep apnea and more.
If you want to talk about fluoride for teeth or you’re looking for a new dentist to treat another oral health issue, contact us to schedule your appointment today.