Fluoride: A Complicated Relationship

Fluoride: A Complicated Relationship

You may be familiar with fluoride in regard to its cavity prevention properties and its inclusion in dental products like toothpaste and mouthwash. Or perhaps you’ve heard arguments surrounding water fluoridation, adding fluoride to public water supplies. While the term is common, its benefits and why such heated debate surrounds the topic may not be as widely understood. To clarify, Steven D. Spitz, DMD explains the benefits of fluoride to your teeth and delves into the reason why debate rages around it.

Why Fluoride is loved. At the most basic level, fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It can also help to reverse early tooth decay.

Your tooth’s enamel is the hardest and most mineralized substance produced by your body.  When you eat, the bacteria in your mouth synthesize nutrients into acids, which weaken tooth enamel and sap minerals from your teeth through a process called demineralization. When acid attacks, the erosion causes small holes to open in the surface of enamel. Eventually, these holes accumulate and defeat your tooth enamel until bacteria can easily enter and infect your tooth. Fluoride helps protect against cavity formation by accumulating at enamel’s weak spots through remineralization.

Why Fluoride is misunderstood. If a child is exposed to excessive levels of fluoride while the teeth are still forming under the gums, a condition known as fluorosis can result. Fluorosis (http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/safety/dental_fluorosis.htm) describes discoloration of the tooth enamel, and does not occur after teeth have already erupted from the gums. In fact, this condition is what helped to initially bring attention to the benefits of fluoride. In the early 1900’s, a dentist in Colorado Springs observed that the citizens all had severely brown-stained teeth. Despite this unsightly condition, their teeth had very little decay. This anomaly sparked extensive research that resulted in the discovery that both extreme conditions were due to the level of fluoride in the town’s drinking water. Today, many cities still engage in the practice of water fluoridation to help fight tooth decay, but there are still many opposed to the practice.

Fluoride and YOU. Water fluoridation only provides enough protection to help teeth while they are forming as a child (6 months to 16 years). When fluoride is ingested it helps form your teeth from the inside out. However, once teeth have formed and the enamel has hardened, the only way to get fluoride into the enamel is to place it topically, on your teeth, in a more concentrated dose—such as a varnish.
Although considerable confusion on the topic persists, the clinical team at Smileboston (http://www.smileboston.com/) believes in the benefits of fluoride and using varnish and makes an effort to educate patients on the differences between fluoride varnish, toothpaste and water fluoridation.  In addition, each patient is offered the option of a fluoride varnish treatment that is painted on teeth at the end of your hygiene visit and contains a higher level of fluoride than that found in toothpaste and mouth rinse.  These treatments have proven to arrest and prevent cavities in those that are high risk—essentially everyone— including individuals with sugary diets, dry mouth (side effect from lots of medications) and exposed root surfaces from dental work like crowns, bridges and implants.

Call Smileboston (http://www.smileboston.com/) today or talk to your hygienist about a fluoride varnish treatment at your next hygiene visit.