The hard enamel that covers the outside of your teeth is made up of several minerals. As you go about your day, the enamel loses and gains minerals. When your enamel loses essential minerals, it’s known as demineralization. When it gains minerals, it’s known as remineralization. Remineralization occurs when you eat or drink foods and beverages that contain certain minerals.
One of the most important minerals for the health of your teeth and enamel is fluoride. Fluoride is found in some foods, water, and in certain kinds of toothpaste. Here’s what you need to know about fluoride–what it is and why it’s so important for your teeth.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a chemical ion, made up of the elements fluorine and sodium. Both are found in rocks, soil, and water. Fluorine is one of the most common elements on the earth.
When fluorine and sodium join together to create fluoride, the two elements end up producing a mineral that’s known as “nature’s cavity fighter.” When you ingest foods that contain fluoride or drink water that’s been fluoridated, the mineral ends up in your saliva. The teeth can absorb it from your saliva, allowing remineralization of your tooth enamel to occur.
In the enamel, the mineral pairs up with phosphate and calcium, two other essential minerals. The trio together forms the mineral fluoroapatite, a solid that is able to resist decay and cavities.
Where Can You Find Fluoride?
You can find fluoride in a few places. It does naturally occur in foods, but usually in very small amounts. It’s also naturally found in some water sources, but again in small quantities. To help increase the amount of this important mineral we ingest, many communities participate in water fluoridation programs, meaning that fluoride is added to public drinking water supplies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits these programs with helping to reduce decay and cavities by about 25 percent.
Another source of fluoride is toothpaste. Not all types of toothpaste contain fluoride, but any toothpaste with the American Dental Association seal of approval does. Toothpaste that contains fluoride not only cleans the teeth and gums, it also offers added protection against cavities.
Fluoride can also be available as a supplement or as a treatment at a dentist’s office. Many children receive in-office fluoride treatments to help their teeth develop and to lower the risk of the cavities. Children who live in areas without fluoridated drinking water might be given a prescription for fluoride supplements from their dentists.
Can You Have Too Much Fluoride?
It is possible to have too much a good thing. In the case of fluoride, too much of the mineral while the teeth are developing can lead to a condition called dental fluorosis. Fluorosis occurs when a child takes in too much fluoride while their teeth are forming in the gums. The result is streaks or white lines on the surface of the teeth. In severe cases, there might be brown spots or pitting on the tooth enamel.
Dental fluorosis is usually considered a cosmetic issue. It doesn’t adversely affect the health of the teeth. In fact, it might actually make them stronger and better able to resist decay. In many cases, fluorosis isn’t easy to spot and might only be noticed by a child’s dental professional.
Once the teeth have emerged from the gums, the risk of fluorosis disappears. Parents who are concerned that their kids are taking in too much fluoride can supervise children under the age of eight while they brush, making sure that they don’t swallow their toothpaste and that they only use a tiny amount of toothpaste when they do brush.
If you want to reduce your risk of cavities and help your children develop teeth that are healthy and strong, fluoride is a must. Your dentist can answer any questions you have about getting fluoride from water, finding it in toothpaste, and having your children receive in-office fluoride treatments.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who offers patients custom treatment plans. He can recommend options that are right for your needs. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.