You’ve heard of Fluoride before, but do you know what it actually is?
Fluoride is found naturally in water (rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans) and in many foods, such as grapes and tea. It’s also added to certain processed cereals and infant formulas. Fluoride has a big benefit: It protects your teeth from the plaque, bacteria and sugars that hang around your mouth after you eat, preventing tooth enamel from being eaten away and cavities from forming.
Fluoride not only prevents decay, but also reverses it by enhancing re-mineralization, the rebuilding of tooth enamel that has begun to decay. That’s why the American Dental Association (ADA), as well as most dentists, believes that small amounts of fluoride should be added to water supplies so that everyone gets an adequate amount.
There is no debate on whether or not fluoride prevents tooth decay.
However, some believe that adding fluoride to water supplies is unnecessary and dangerous. A recent government study found that about two in five teens have dental fluorosis — white spots and streaks on their teeth — from consuming too much fluoride.
A Short History of Fluoride
On Jan. 25, 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., was the first to add fluoride to its municipal water supply. Studies had shown that children had fewer cavities if they lived in areas where the water contained more fluoride. Today, nearly three-quarters of Americans live in communities with fluoridated water supplies.
However, fluoride today is more widely available in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and rinses, as well as in a gel, foam, or varnish that dentists can apply to teeth, than it was when communities began fluoridating their water.
Advocates for fluoridated water argue that families of lower incomes that may not have access to dental treatments are still able to get the recommended doses via their water source. Also, that dental fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic condition that is easily dealt with.
Though the American Dental Association supports fluoridation, critics believe that any amount of fluoride added to water is too much — claiming it puts people at risk for adverse health conditions, including fractures, brain damage, and cancer.
Some studies show that excess fluoride can cause fractures to teeth and bones, kidney damage, thyroid issues, heart disease, brain damage, and cancer. The amount of tooth decay that is seen doesn’t vary between communities where the water is fluoridated and those where it isn’t.
According to the ADA, the new recommendation for fluoride levels should provide an effective level of fluoride that will continue to reduce the incidence of tooth decay in children and adults of all ages and incomes, while minimizing the rate of dental fluorosis.
If you have concerns about fluoridation and want to avoid fluorosis, talk to your dentist.