Posted by Dr. Julie Boudreault On 11-03-2019
Many people don’t give fluoride much thought. They know it’s something included in their toothpaste thanks to all the commercials on TV. If you visit the dentist on a regular basis you are probably familiar with having it applied, or at least being asked if you would like a fluoride treatment. Yet, do you really know what fluoride is and what it’s used for? Here we provide the 411 on fluoride to help answer all of your questions.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is found throughout the Earth’s surface and can exist as a solid, a liquid or a gas. It is a colourless mineral that helps strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is added in small doses to the water system in most municipalities due to its cavity fighting powers. Fluoride also occurs naturally in many foods from fish and meat to yams. Most toothpastes contain fluoride and treatments are also applied at your regular dental checkups.
Why do Children Need Fluoride?
As we already mentioned, fluoride protects your teeth. This is very important when it comes to children, as children under seven are still developing the enamel of their teeth. Fluoride strengthens the structure of the tooth as their enamel is still developing. When applied during this critical period, the enamel itself is strengthened as well. This means it becomes more resistant to acids providing built-in protection for their teeth. This increases the chances of them maintaining healthier, stronger teeth for life.
There have also been studies showing fluoride can reduce the depth of common grooves or fissures on the biting surface of teeth. Children who consumed the suggested amount of fluoride had shallower fissures than children who did not consume fluoride. When fissures are deeper it is more likely for food particles to get lodged there allowing bacteria to remain in the deeper pits. With shallow fissures there is less debris, less bacteria and less chance of cavities.
Why do I Need Fluoride?
Fluoride does not only strengthen the enamel of children’s teeth, but also helps protect tooth enamel in adults. So why is enamel so important? It is the enamel of your teeth that comes into contact with plaque. The bacteria in plaque is very destructive and when it comes into contact with the enamel of the teeth it begins to erode and weaken it. Plaque feeds off the minerals in enamel. This “demineralization” process can be fought naturally with the saliva in our mouths. However, if teeth are not cared for properly and the enamel becomes too weak, our natural demineralization fighting abilities are weakened as well. This can be avoided with proper cleaning, oral care and a reduced intake of sugar.
Fluoride promotes remineralization. As the remineralization process takes place, fluoride helps make the replaced enamel stronger. This in turn helps prevent further enamel breakdown. Plaque does not only cause bacteria. It also produces harmful acid that leads to tooth decay. Fluoride fights the acid by blocking the harmful enzymes contained in plaque. This prevents acid build up that can weaken and eat away at tooth enamel.
How Much Fluoride do I need?
People consume fluoride in a number of ways. Fluoride occurs naturally in water. However, it is also added to water systems in most municipalities. You are also using toothpaste that contains fluoride. The amount of fluoride consumed can vary from person to person based on how often they drink water and how often they brush their teeth. In general, the recommended allowance for fluoride is as follows:
- Adult women and teen girls 14 years of age or older should be consuming 3 milligrams daily
- Adult men and teen boys of the same age should be consuming 4 milligrams daily
- Children aged 4 to 13 should have one to two milligrams daily
- Infants and small children should not have more than half a milligram daily
Fluoride toothpaste tends to contain between one and three milligrams of fluoride. You can check your own brand to see how much it contains. However, remember that when brushing your teeth, you should be spitting out the toothpaste as the recommended fluoride intake above is for fluoride consumed internally.
How can I Be Sure I am Getting Enough Fluoride?
Brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste is the first step to making sure you are getting enough fluoride. Use the proper brushing technique so all of your tooth surfaces are covered including along the gum line. Fluoride is naturally occurring in many foods as well as water. The following foods contain 0.1 milligram of fluoride per serving:
- Taro root
- Red meats
You can also receive fluoride treatments at your dental checkups every six months. Fluoride treatments are applied using a flavoured foam or gel and dental trays. The effects of these treatments are long lasting and apply fluoride more directly to the teeth than what you can consume in your diet. If you are susceptible to tooth decay or cavities, professional fluoride treatments are highly recommended as they will strengthen your tooth enamel and also reach all surfaces of your teeth.
Can Too Much Fluoride be Harmful?
Too much fluoride can be harmful which means it’s a good idea to keep track of how much fluoride you are consuming. Be certain to spit out your toothpaste and make sure your children are doing the same. Fluoride overuse can cause dental fluorosis. Although this only affects teeth “cosmetically” it is always best to avoid overexposure. Fluorosis appears as white spots or lines on the teeth. However, in more severe cases, discolouration can be far more noticeable with brown and gray staining of the enamel.
Your children should definitely be receiving regular fluoride treatments during the developmental stages of their enamel. If you are worried that you or your child may have dental fluorosis, you can speak to the Milltown Dental team to arrange a checkup. For more information or to set-up an appointment call (905) 878-8528, or contact us contact us here.