Saturday, November 29, 2014

How Important is Fluoride to Dental Health?

Fluoride and its effects have been a subject of some debate recently. Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have stated that fluoride is a safe and effective substance for preventing tooth decay, however some critics and less-informed members of the general public are fearful that it can cause harmful side effects or serious illness. In this post, we'll go over the basics of fluoride, its benefits and associated risks.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is present in almost every water source as well as in some foods. It has been scientifically proven to prevent, and even reverse, tooth decay.

What are the Benefits of Fluoride?

According to the CDC, in the 1930s, dental scientists found that the occurrence and severity of tooth decay was significantly lower among people whose water supplies contained higher levels of fluoride. Many extensive studies followed this documentation and as a result, it was proven that fluoride could prevent the breakdown of tooth enamel.

Fluoride prevents and in some cases can even reverse the damaging reaction that occurs when acid levels build up in a person's mouth. When a person eats sugar or other refined carbohydrates, the bacteria that is present in the mouth produces acid. That acid can remove essential minerals from the surface of the teeth and leave them vulnerable to cavities. Fluoride works to remineralize tooth enamel and prevent the continuation of cavity formation.

What is Community Water Fluoridation?

In 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, MI added fluoride to its municipal water system in a process known as community water fluoridation. This process involves fortifying an area's water supply by adjusting the amount of fluoride to promote the population's dental health. According to the ADA, the process is similar in concept to fortifying salt with iodine or adding folic acid to bread and cereal. The ADA also states that community water fluoridation remains the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.

Is Fluoride Safe?

Both the ADA and CDC state that ingesting fluoride in normal quantities is perfectly safe. However, the risk of dental fluorosis may be increased when higher-than-normal levels of fluoride are ingested. Dental fluorosis is not technically a disease, but more of a developmental abnormality that is characterized by discoloration and pitting of the teeth. Someone with dental fluorosis may have very subtle white marks on their teeth that are only noticeable to a dentist while others may have more noticeable stains that range in color from dull yellow to brown. Because this condition is largely cosmetic, federal and state regulators likely see the benefits of water fluoridation as outweighing the possible side effects. That being said however, the CDC does have the following disclaimer on their website:

"The proper amount of fluoride at all stages of life helps prevent and control tooth decay. Recent studies have raised the possibility that mixing infant formula with fluoridated water, particularly for infants exclusively on a formula diet during the first year of life, may play a more important role in dental fluorosis development than was previously understood."

Dental fluorosis is a condition that usually shows up after a child's permanent teeth have come in; however, the condition is actually developed beforehand in infancy and early childhood when permanent teeth are being formed. Therefore, many parents are understandably concerned about the amount of fluoride their child ingests.

If you are concerned about the use of fluoride, whether for yourself or your child, feel free to speak with your dentist.

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