What is fluoride, and what is it used for? That’s a question we probably need a lot more time and space to answer, but in a nutshell, fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water, soil, plants, and rocks. People use it because it helps prevent cavities by strengthening the hard outer layer of enamel on our teeth. But why do we need to strengthen our teeth?
When plaque builds up on a tooth’s surface, think of it as a demolition zone where millions of bacteria are hard at work drilling through the enamel. When the acid those bacteria produce begins to eat through the enamel it’s called demineralization, and can lead to a cavity. Depending on the progression, fluoride can sometimes re-mineralize those weakened spots and can reverse the demineralization process to help prevent cavities.
There are two ways of fluoridating your teeth: systemic and topical. Systemic is when fluoride enters our bloodstream, usually through drinking water that’s had fluoride added to it. In 1945, after years of research, Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first city in the world to fluoridate its water supply. Essentially they became a test city and after only 11 years researchers discovered that tooth decay among children born after fluoride was added to the water, dropped more than 60%. Today, cities all over the world add fluoride to their drinking water. In fact, community water fluoridation is considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control. If you drink water from a private well though, you may not be getting any fluoride, in which case your dentist may prescribe a supplement. However, since fluoride is a naturally occurring substance, well water also has the potential to contain too much, so contact your local Department of Environmental Quality to have your water checked.
The other way of getting fluoride to your teeth is by topical application. That’s when you apply fluoride to the tooth surface by brushing your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste, or maybe with a fluoride varnish received at the dentist.
Through years of research, fluoride has been proven to build a strong foundation of tooth structure that helps strengthen teeth and fight cavities, so it’s important to use it. If you’re not sure about your fluoride use, talk to your dentist. Stay healthy!