How Fluoride Prevents Tooth Decay

By Dr. Michael Vold

Fluoride is a salt of the element fluorine, which can be found in the earth’s crust. It is a key ingredient in toothpaste and other types of dental hygiene products such as mouthwash. Although it occurs naturally in water, soil, plants and many foods, the fluoride that is used for dental care (and added to our water supply) is generally synthesized.

Fluoride protects teeth against the decay caused by plaque. When the bacteria in plaque interacts with sugars in the mouth, acids are produced that eat away at tooth enamel. Fluoride helps protect teeth by impeding the acidic processes that cause erosion. It also bonds with the enamel, making the tooth more resistive to decay. Fluoride can even repair and rebuild enamel that has been damaged.

During the 1930’s it was discovered that people who drank water with naturally occurring fluoride had significantly less cavities and tooth decay than individuals without access to fluoridated water. The fluoridation of our water supply began during the 1940’s in Michigan. Fluoridation involves optimizing the natural fluoride in water to levels that will help protect teeth. One part per million fluoride is now added to drinking water. Currently, almost two-thirds of U.S. cities have fluoridated water. Studies have shown that the fluoride contained in drinking water reduces the potential for cavities and other forms of tooth decay by as much as 35% in adults and 60% in babies

These days however, many people prefer drinking bottled and purified water. These products have insufficient amounts of fluoride to stop tooth decay. Children in particular require sufficient amounts of fluoride to protect their teeth. Fluoride is also important for individuals who eat large amounts of carbohydrates and sugars, have a history of tooth decay, wear braces, or have bridges and crowns.

After brushing, fluoride is considered the most effective method of maintaining healthy teeth. It is generally considered safe, but toxic reactions can occur if too much fluoride is consumed over a long period of time. This can include tooth enamel discoloration (dental fluorosis), as well as joint pain.
If you need to increase the amount of fluoride you consume, ask your dentist about taking fluoride tablets or drops. Bottled water with fluoride can also be purchased, and there are purification systems available that will not eliminate fluoride when purifying the water. Your oral health care should also include brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist to remove plaque.