In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed many of his patients had unusual brown staining on their teeth — and little to no tooth decay. What he unknowingly observed was the power of a chemical substance in his patients' drinking water — fluoride. While commonplace today, fluoride sparked a revolution — and some controversy — in dental care during the 20th Century.
After decades of research and testing, most dentists now agree that fluoride reduces decay by interfering with the disease process. The optimum pH level for the mouth is neutral; however, this environment constantly changes as we eat, especially if we ingest foods or beverages high in acidity. A high acid level softens tooth enamel (a process called de-mineralization) and can lead to erosion if not neutralized. In addition, a thin layer of bacteria-rich plaque called biofilm that adheres to tooth surfaces is also acidic and is the cause of tooth decay, possibly more so in teeth made more susceptible from enamel erosion.
When fluoride is in “the right place” (present on the tooth surface and in our saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer), it helps inhibit de-mineralization and aids in the re-hardening of the enamel (re-mineralization).
Although fluoride needs to come into direct contact with tooth enamel for optimum effectiveness, ingesting it can also prove beneficial. The fluoride we ingest eventually becomes deposited in bone. As bone grows and changes it releases this reserved fluoride back into the bloodstream where it eventually becomes part of saliva; the saliva brings it into contact with tooth surfaces.
The two most prominent ways we encounter fluoride are through fluoridated drinking water and in toothpaste. There continues to be concerns about what constitutes safe levels of fluoride in drinking water and over possible side effects like teeth staining and changes in bone structure. However, extensive studies have conclusively shown that even minimal levels of water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpaste have reduced tooth decay.
As the Colorado dentist discovered over a hundred years ago, fluoride is truly remarkable as a cavity fighter. Whether you have access to fluoridated water or not, we encourage you to use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against decay.
If you would like more information on fluoride, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”