We’re sure you’ve heard some buzz about fluoride throughout your lifetime. It’s something that can be found in many products that you may use on a regular basis, namely toothpaste and mouthwash. You’re probably aware that fluoride has something to do with dental hygiene, but perhaps you’re not exactly sure what it is or even what it does. In today’s blog post, we’ll explore the following questions:
- What is fluoride?
- Where does it come from?
- How does it works to help support your dental health?
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a simple ionic form of the element fluorine, which can be found in a variety of natural sources. The most popular source of fluorine is fluorite, a fairly common, colorful mineral found throughout the world with the largest deposits residing in South Africa and Mexico. Fluoride is naturally released into the environment via a number of geological processes, including the weathering of minerals and volcanic activity, which releases emissions into the atmosphere. Fluoride can also enter the environment through human activity, including burning coal, oil refining and other industrial processes, as well as in a variety of fruit and vegetable products such as pickles, grape juice, raisins and raw green beans, among others.
Fluoride is perhaps best known for its ability to help prevent tooth decay and strengthen teeth, which is why it is commonly found in dental health products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as drinking water in some countries (including the United States). Fluoride has been shown to be effective at very low doses to improve dental health; in drinking water, fluoride levels of 0.7 milligrams per liter have been proven successful in preventing tooth decay. In toothpastes and mouthwashes, fluoride levels are slightly higher due to a higher concentration — on average, most toothpastes contain around 0.15 percent fluoride, or roughly 1,500 parts per million (PPM).
How Does Fluoride Work?
Fluoride helps strengthen teeth by making them more resistant to tooth decay. Before we explain exactly how fluoride works to accomplish this, let’s first take a look at what tooth decay is and how it occurs.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is manifested in the form of dental cavities (also known as “caries”). It is caused when the tooth enamel is attacked by acid, which is produced by bacteria that naturally live on the teeth (known as “plaque”). While plaque is a naturally occurring phenomenon, it can be exacerbated by consuming sugary foods and drinks such as candy, soda, fruit and other sweets. When we ingest high amounts of such sugary foods, the amount of acid-producing plaque on the enamel increases, meaning it’s imperative to remove in order to prevent decay. Plaque can also develop beneath the gums and attack the root of the tooth, resulting in severe damage.
Saliva is a natural combatant of tooth decay, however we may not always be able to produce enough saliva to adequately remove plaque bacteria in order to prevent decay and cavities. That’s why it’s important to maintain good dental habits like brushing and flossing in order to sufficiently remove plaque from the teeth and gums.
How Does Fluoride Prevent Tooth Decay & Cavities?
Fluoride can help prevent tooth decay and cavities because it alters the chemical structure of the tooth enamel to make it more effective at fighting the harmful effects of acid. For this reason, many dentists emphasize the importance of fluoride in children. Because their enamel are still developing, children are especially susceptible to the effects of fluoride, and sufficient ingestion has been shown to help strengthen their teeth.
Not only does fluoride help strengthen teeth, but it has also been shown to actually reverse damage caused by acid attack through a process called “remineralization.” Remineralization takes place after the tooth enamel has been weakened by plaque bacteria (known as “demineralization”) and the minerals that have been taken from the teeth are essentially put back in place. The problem occurs when demineralization outpaces remineralization due to poor dental hygiene and excessive consumption of sugary foods and drinks, which can ultimately lead to tooth decay. Fluoride can help boost the effects of remineralization in order to counteract the effects of plaque bacteria.
Fluoride also has been proven to help prevent cavities and tooth decay from occurring in the first place. This is due to the fact that fluoride inhibits the ability of plaque to produce acid, meaning plaque isn’t as effective at damaging the teeth once it comes in contact with fluoride.
For all of these reasons, many dental professionals recommend using dental hygiene products infused with fluoride in order to achieve the best dental health possible.
Where to Find Fluoride
Fluoride can be found in a number of dental hygiene products, specifically toothpaste where it exists in low doses. For severe instances of decay or weakened enamel, a dentist may prescribe extra strength toothpaste that contains higher levels of fluoride (roughly 5,000 ppm), which is only available with a doctor’s authorization. In addition, dentists typically will administer topical fluoride to children until their teenage years during their regular checkups. This ensures that children’s teeth stay strong enough to fight cavities during their formative years.
While fluoride has been proven to help strengthen teeth and prevent cavities, it’s important to maintain good dental habits as well. Brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day will ensure your teeth and gums stay plaque-free and ultimately will help to fight tooth decay. In addition, visiting your dentist twice a year helps guarantee the best dental health possible.
For additional information about tooth decay, how fluoride works and other dental health related topics, visit our Common Questions page. Contact us if you’d like to make a dental appointment in the Boulder area — we’re here to help you achieve a healthier smile.