What is this fluoride stuff anyways?
Fluoride this, fluoride that…This stuff’s name is on so many dental hygiene products, and it isn’t really defined thoroughly enough. The word fluoride is just thrown out there like we’re expected to know what it is. I wanted to help shed some light on this mighty mineral and explain why, in dentistry, we recommend it a lot.
First of all, as you may have gathered from the title, fluoride is, in fact, a mineral. It is naturally occurring in the body as calcium fluoride and is mostly found in the bones and teeth. Fluoride also occurs naturally in many different foods and water. The enamel in our teeth contains fluoride, as well as other minerals. These minerals form this barrier on your tooth: the enamel, and the enamel prevents food particles, bacteria, and acids from getting to the nerve and causing infection inside the tooth.
Our teeth go through a natural cycle of mineralization (from foods, water, supplements etc.), and demineralization. Demineralization occurs when acids (from dental plaque, bacteria, and sugars), eat through and wear away tooth enamel. Remineralization occurs when fluoride, calcium, and phosphate replaces the minerals lost by the acids and wear. When the demineralization occurs faster than the remineralization, you get tooth decay.
Fluoride helps protect the teeth from acids in the mouth, and can actually reverse tooth decay if caught early enough. Research done has shown that “…community water fluoridation has been identified as the most cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all, reducing tooth decay by 25% in children and adults.” This from an article from the Center of Disease Control. So, as you can see, this mighty mineral has done some serious defensive work for our teeth.
How we get our fluoride.
There are many different ways to apply the magical mineral. Many toothpastes, and mouthwashes have small amounts as I mentioned above. Much of our public waterways now have fluoride available in the water itself, available at the turn of a faucet. These are all every day methods of remineralization. Eating certain foods can also contribute.
We at the dental office have other methods of application. We have access to a varnish that can be “painted” on your teeth, this varnish has a very high concentrate of fluoride and works to remineralize that much more. We also can use a foam and gel that we would put into a mouth guard, the gel/foam solution will then easily sit around the teeth, working to remineralize your enamel. There is even supplements you can take, with a prescription from your doctor, if needed.
With all of the ways we can get this wonder-mineral into our diet/routine, I remembered why we started to use fluoride so much. Before fluoride started to become broadly used, tooth decay was incredibly rampant, and is to some degree still rampant today. The days of, “Oh, it hurts?”, “Let’s pull it.” have finally gone by the wayside. We can focus today on preventative care, small cavity fillings used in order to prevent them from becoming a larger and more expensive (and possibly painful) cavity in the future. Preventative care, as in, spending a little to ensure you don’t need to end up spending a lot…in time AND money. Regular cleanings and checkups, using modern diagnostic equipment, will also help the dentist to pinpoint weak or worn parts in your enamel and suggest fluoride be used there. If the enamel itself has not been worn entirely through by the acids in the bacteria and sugar, the enamel can still be remineralized. Preventative is what we go for. Fluoride helps us to prevent cavities. That mighty, mighty, mineral.
Stay healthy my friends.