Fluoride, despite being a naturally occurring substance, is one area of dental care that has received a fair amount of debate over the years. Is it good? Is it bad? Or just more simply, what is it?
Like many other scientific phenomena, the discovery of fluoride was found by sheer chance. A dentist named Fredrick McKay had noticed that patients in a small Colorado town had a significantly lower dental cavity rate compared to other parts of the state. Intrigued by this, McKay invited one of his colleagues to do research to find out why this was the case.
Eventually McKay and his colleagues were able to trace down the source to the water supply that the residence of the township were using. Naturally, this finding led to further research over the decades by other scientists and institutions keen to discover more. One research study spanned 15 years, monitoring 30,000 schoolchildren and finding that found fluoride added to their water reduced dental caries by over 60%.
These early discoveries really did change the dental industry as they provided a very effective aid in the prevention of tooth decay for millions, possibly billions, around the world.
As mentioned above, fluoride is a natural substance that is found almost everywhere. It is a mineral that can be found naturally in rock, soil, plants, water and even air. In fact, all fresh water and all sea water has some level of fluoride in it. Given it's abundance in the world around us, you probably won't be surprised when we tell you that it is also in foods like apples and almonds and most likely even in your chocolate cake, let alone your drinking water.
Now if you are more scientifically minded, Fluoride, F-, is a simple fluorine atom with one slight modification. It has an extra electron attached. Whilst this may seem insignificant, it alters the properties of the atom substantially.
Finally, if you are wondering, fluoride does not actually have any smell or taste to it itself. Therefore, you probably won't ever 'notice' it's presents unless you check the ingredients list.
Tooth decay is unfortunately a serious issue in Australia and many people take their teeth for granted. These cavities in your teeth can start very small, however, they can cause pain or discomfort when eating or drinking, or sometimes just bring about a general level of pain all day.
This tooth decay stems from effectively acid damage, which comes from the bacteria that live in your mouth naturally. Whilst your tooth enamel is an incredibly tough substance, the hardest in your body, it will be worn down by this acid. The rate that this occurs depends on what you eat, however, generally speaking, the more sugar you consume, the faster the acid damage will affect your teeth.
This is where fluoride comes in and helps in the fight against tooth decay or cavities. Simply put, fluoride will help in three ways. Firstly, the fluoride will prevent the bacteria from metabolising or in other words stop the bacteria from converting the sugar or carbohydrates into acid. The second way is by helping prevent the demineralisation of your teeth, which means that it helps prevent the tooth from losing minerals from the structure and protecting the enamel by providing a defensive shield. Finally, the fluoride will help remineralise the tooth structure. This means where minerals have been lost from the enamel, they are put back into the tooth structure.
In short, yes. While there was a lot of debate when they started adding it to the drinking water in various states, research has overwhelmingly found that fluoride is an easy and cost effective way to help reduce dental cavities in individuals and the wider community.
As mentioned above and as your probably already know, you are most likely already consuming fluoride on a daily basis. Fluoride can be obtained in two ways, systemic or topical. For most people, they will get most of their fluoride via the systemic method, i.e. from their drinking water supply, with every state in Australia fluoridating their water, or fluoride supplements. The other method is via topical application, for example toothpaste or topical varnishes applied by dental practitioners. Here at CoastWide Smiles, we apply topical varnish to patient’s teeth every three or six monthly, depending on individual’s needs, to prevent dental cavities and promote a healthier oral health.
Whilst you might think then that this is 'enough' and that you don't need fluoride toothpaste or vice versa, it is important to remember that the sources by which you consume fluoride are absorbed and used differently. For example, the toothpaste you use will get the fluoride into the areas between teeth where acid producing bacteria grow, however, this will only occur twice a day. The fluoride in your water will bathe your teeth several times a day. The fluoride in water is also consumed and not spit out like toothpaste and therefore consumed by your gut and absorbed into your saliva bones and teeth internally.