Do you remember as a kid at the end of your dental cleaning the hygienist would have you swish a liquid or paint a gel on teeth? Maybe your hygienist still does this today. Ever wonder what that was or the benefits behind it? That was fluoride. What is fluoride? Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and foods. In dental practices, it is used to strengthen teeth. Fluoride has been added to public water sources since the 1950’s and actively used in dental practices since the mid 1940’s. Today we are going to discuss the benefits of fluoride as well as the concerns. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, there is lots to learn.  

Benefits of Fluoride 

As mentioned above, fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. Fluoride is commonly used in dental practices to prevent cavities and promote healthy teeth. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Dental Association (ADA) both consistently highlight the significant reduction of cavities due to the use of fluoride. Studies have additionally shown that fluoridated water can decrease cavities in both children and adults. Fluoride not only protects teeth from cavities and tooth decay. It also strengthens and reinforces the tooth’s enamel to ensure they stay healthier longer.  

Science Behind Fluoride

Let’s look at how fluoride protects your teeth. First, think of the outer layer of your tooth, the enamel, as a brick wall. Enamel shields the inside of your teeth from harmful sugars and bacteria that cause cavities, plaque, and tooth decay. Fluoride reinforces and strengthens this “brick wall” by merging with the enamel structure. The fluoride also helps to remineralize weakened enamel to help make teeth stronger so they can fight decay. 

Sources of Fluoride 

Where is fluoride found? Fluoride is a mineral found in all natural water sources, and the tap water we drink has fluoride added to it. Adding fluoride to our water helps by preventing tooth decay and protecting against cavities. Water is not the only place you will find fluoride though. It is in toothpastes and mouthwashes—both used to fight cavities and decay. At your dental cleanings, the hygienist may paint a fluoride varnish or gel on your teeth. Most dental offices will apply fluoride regularly up until the age of 16 but you do have the option to ask for it at every cleaning appointment. 

Is Fluoride Toxic? 

As you know, every story has two sides. We have covered the benefits of fluoride, but let’s look at some of the hesitations for fluoride usage. A common side effect of too much fluoride is fluorosis. Consumption of too much fluoride from water sources can cause teeth to develop spots and staining at a young age. This can usually be treated with dental whitening kits or other dental procedures. In a study done by Dr. Paul Connett, he lists several reasons why he believes fluoride should no longer be standard practice. Some of them include: 

  • Fluoride is the only chemical added to public water for a medical treatment purpose 
  • The dosage of fluoride in the water cannot be controlled 
  • Fluoride may have effects on thyroid function 
  • Fluoride can compromise the skeletal structure 
  • Fatigue and Muscle Weakness 
  • Not all chemicals used to fluoridate the water are pharmaceutical grade 

Another study performed by the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington took a different approach to their research on the aversion to fluoride treatment—this time from a parent’s perspective. The group of 56 parents was able to narrow their main concerns into six categories: 

  • Is topical fluoride necessary?
  • They want to keep chemicals out of their children’s bodies.
  • They believe fluoride is harmful. 
  • Too much uncertainty surrounding fluoride
  • They feel pressured to use topical fluoride. 
  • Using fluoride should be a choice 

Like any parent, those in the study just want to protect their child. Parents are doing the best they can, making the best decisions they can, with the best information out there. Plus, information or news comes from hundreds of different sources and sometimes it is hard to know what is right or wrong. The team at Univ. Of Washington notes that parents are starting to question and research preventative care in every aspect of their child’s life, such as vaccines at the pediatrician’s office. It is important for all parties –parents/patients, researchers, and dentists to begin doing the research and having conversations around dental health and discuss options to develop a plan for your dental care you can be confident about. It is important to know the potential health risks and side effects of any supplement and vitamin/mineral may have on your body or child’s body. 

Fluoride Usage and University General Dentistry 

At University General Dentistry we believe the benefits of fluoride are undeniable and use them in our practice. We do feel like it is important to acknowledge both the effectiveness and potential concerns raised by the multiple organizations within this article. Everyone wants to do the best to care for themselves and their families. It is key to balance knowledge with action. Contact us to schedule an appointment with any of our highly trained staff to discuss your dental needs. We are happy to help you build a plan that is right for you. Whether it is Glo Whitening before your daughter’s wedding, Invisalign to help re-align your teeth after you lost your teenage retainer, or you just need to finally establish your dental care in Knoxville, we cannot wait to see you at one of our two convenient office locations.