Cavities used to be a fact of life. But over the past few decades, tooth decay has been reduced dramatically. The key reason: fluoride. Research has shown that fluoride reduces cavities in both children and adults. It also helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay becomes visible. Unfortunately, many people continue to be misinformed about fluoride and fluoridation. Fluoride is like any other nutrient; it is safe and effective when used appropriately. This article will help you learn more about the important oral health benefits of fluoride.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources, even the oceans. The fluoride ion comes from the element fluorine. Fluorine, the 17th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, is never encountered in its free state in nature. It exists only in combination with other elements as a fluoride compound.
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 obtained in two forms: topical and systemic. Topical fluorides strengthen teeth already present in the mouth making them more decay-resistant. Topical fluorides include toothpastes, mouth rinses and professionally applied fluoride therapies.
Systemic fluorides are those that are ingested into the body and become incorporated into forming tooth structures. Systemic fluorides can also give topical protection because fluoride is present in saliva, which continually bathes the teeth. Systemic fluorides include water fluoridation or dietary fluoride supplements in the form of tablets, drops or lozenges.
No matter how you get the fluoride you need—whether it be through your drinking water, supplements, toothpaste, mouth rinse or professionally applied fluoride—you can be confident that fluoride is silently at work fighting decay. Safe, convenient, effective however you describe it, fluoride fits naturally into any dental care program.
~ American Dental Association