There are a lot of questions surrounding fluoride treatments and water fluoridation and many parents aren’t sure what the best choice is for their family. Your family dentist can help you to know which options for fluoride are best for your family, but it’s helpful to know the basics about fluoride so you can make an informed decision.
How Fluoride Helps
You’ve probably told your kids that cavities are caused by little “bugs” that like to snack on our teeth. While it’s true that tooth decay is caused by bacteria, the actual decay process is a little different. The bacteria that cause damage in our mouths are actually after the sugars and plaque on our teeth, not the enamel itself. These bacteria produce waste that is acidic and this acid is what actually does damage to our teeth. Brushing our teeth dislodges the bacteria and our saliva is meant to neutralize the acid, but sometimes this isn’t enough to keep teeth strong and healthy.
Fluoride strengthens teeth in a couple of different ways. One way that fluoride helps to protect teeth is topically, by preventing bacteria from attaching to teeth in the first place. The second way is by promoting remineralization in the enamel, which undoes the damage done by acid, and makes the teeth more resistant to exposure to this acid in the future. Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay by 18-40% in the U.S., depending on the community.
The Fluoridation Debate
Fluoride is a natural component of all water, but some communities have lower levels of fluoride naturally occurring in the water than others. In communities where fluoride levels are low, fluoride may be added to the water in very small amounts to foster better dental health. These additives do not bring the fluoride levels any higher than what naturally occurs in many areas. Fluoride supplementation in drinking water is called fluoridation.
Fluoride has been added to the water in various communities around the country since WWII, and has been a source of public debate ever since. Many people argue that fluoridation is unnatural, that it doesn’t help to prevent tooth decay, and that it puts consumers at risk for other health problems. The truth is that there have been countless studies that verify the validity of fluoride preventing and reversing tooth decay. The only proven negative side effect of fluoridation has been the appearance of white spots on the teeth of some consumers of fluoridated water, mostly young children.
You Have Choices
The evidence that fluoride treatments are beneficial to dental health is conclusive, but if you’re uncomfortable with allowing your family to ingest fluoride in supplement form or through fluoridated water, you have a choice. Using bottled, non fluoridated drinking water in your home will greatly reduce your family’s exposure to fluoride supplements. Using toothpaste that contains fluoride, and having regular topical fluoride treatments applied by your dentist can give you many of the benefits of fluoride without the additional supplements.