Fluoride Essentials: Is Fluoride Good or Bad for Your Teeth?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Parris Kidd
What kind of toothpaste do you use?
Okay, does your toothpaste have fluoride in it?
A debate has been waged for decades over the ostensible benefits of fluoride. Some feel it’s healthy for human consumption and others strongly disagree.
So, which side is right? Before you scrub your pearly whites tonight, here are some of the pros and cons you should know about fluoride…
Is Fluoride Good or Bad for My Teeth?
Before we get to that question, it’s important to answer this basic question…
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is one of the most abundant elements found in nature. In scientific terms, fluoride is an inorganic, monatomic mineral, and is the ionic form of the element fluorine. The salts of fluorine are odorless but have a bitter taste.
Fluoride is found in soils, rocks, and water supplies. It occurs in some foods, usually in low amounts, and is highest in brewed tea, coffee, and canned shrimp. It doesn’t seem to be essential for human health.
About 99% of the fluoride found in the body is concentrated in the bones and teeth. Dentists commonly use fluoride to strengthen enamel (the outer layer of your teeth). It’s also believed that fluoride can help prevent cavities.
Fluoride has been added to many toothpastes, mouth rinses, and even public water supplies (water fluoridation) in certain regions. In addition to these oral hygiene supplies, fluoride is used in medications, pesticides, cleaning agents, and to make aluminum, steel, and Teflon products.
Now that we know what fluoride is, let’s look at some of its benefits and potential drawbacks.
Some of the oral benefits of fluoride are that it:
- helps prevent tooth decay
- helps curb the growth of harmful oral bacteria
- helps reduce the loss of minerals from tooth enamel
- helps rebuild tooth enamel
Eating foods high in sugar is bad for your health. Turns out it’s also bad for your teeth. When the bacteria in your mouth break down sugar, it produces acids that creates demineralization of the tooth enamel.
Over time, this process can lead to the creation of cavities. Fluoride can help remineralize your tooth enamel. This can serve to ward off cavities and tooth decay.
Though fluoride is a natural substance, it can have negative health consequences if consumed in large amounts.
One of the serious side effects of excessive fluoride consumption is dental fluorosis.
This condition is seen as white flecks or brown spots on teeth. Most fluorosis is barely noticeable, but in extreme cases it can cause pitting of the teeth.
Dental fluorosis most typically affects children under the age of 8 and is thought to be more prevalent in children who swallow toothpaste. But data from the CDC up to 2012 found fluorosis was increasing and had reached 41% in adolescents.
Skeletal fluorosis impacts bones rather than teeth. Initial complications may include stiffness and joint pain. More advanced issues may include the calcification of ligaments and the altering of bone structure.
This condition is more prevalent in areas of the world where there’s a high level of fluoride in the drinking water. Though rare, there have been cases of skeletal fluorosis in America.
Fluoride is naturally found in fresh water. Its concentration depends on the geographical region and water source.
Public water fluoridation began in the U.S. in 1945. The scientific evidence is considerable and clearly indicates that adding fluoride to drinking water supplies has consistently reduced rates of cavities in children, very likely also in adults.
However, due to the risk for negative effects, the maximum fluoride level in drinking water must be controlled. In recent years, concerns over fluoride toxicity have driven many away from drinking fluoridated water.
In the Unites States, the Public Health Service recommends fluoride in drinking water not to exceed 0.7 milligrams per liter (about 27 milligrams per gallon). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes fluoride levels in drinking water by county, though many counties don’t fluoridate their drinking water.
Numerous studies focusing on fluoride in water have been conducted around the world. Some people claim that drinking fluoridated water creates such health issues as joint pain, bone problems, kidney dysfunction, muscle atrophy, and low IQ scores in children. However, the competently conducted research suggests the daily or one-time intakes required to cause such problems is considerably higher than the levels in drinking water or any other single fluoride source.
Adverse effects from high fluoride intakes – such as 375 milligrams in a single dose – can be severe. Long-term risk is mostly to individuals who acquire fluoride from multiple sources: diet, fluoridated water, fluoridated salt, fluoride dietary supplements. Children should be discouraged from swallowing fluoridated toothpastes, though without other substantial sources of fluoride exposure this alone shouldn’t harm them.
If you’re concerned about the possible negative effects of fluoride, there are practical ways you can avoid consuming fluoride. These include purchasing bottled water or a fluoride filter if you live in an area where there’s a concerning amount of fluoride in the water. Also, many toothpaste brands offer fluoride-free options.
Proper Oral Maintenance
Regardless of which side of the fluoride debate you fall on, it’s crucial that you maintain daily oral care. Oral health is extremely important to your overall health. You can’t have a healthy mouth without healthy gums and teeth.
The best way to ensure healthy gums is to brush your teeth (with fluoride or fluoride-free toothpaste) after every meal and floss at least once daily. Some prefer to floss first thing in the morning; others like a thorough cleaning before they go to bed. Either way is fine, but doing both is recommended for even greater benefit.
Some may consider flossing as optional, but it’s absolutely vital to tooth/gum health and overall wellness. Flossing helps loosen food particles and plaque, and brushing removes that debris from your teeth and gums. Since it may help lessen the risk of memory problems, flossing is also a brain-healthy exercise.
Be sure to brush and floss daily to keep your teeth healthy, white, and bright!
At BrainMD, we’re dedicated to providing the highest purity nutrients to improve your physical health and overall well-being. For more information about our full list of brain healthy supplements, please visit us at BrainMD.
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