(Image courtesy of http://www.dentalinnovations.com)
As dental professionals we are seeing the constant impact of the consumption of sugary and acidic foods and drinks in combination with the lack of Fluoride use. Fluoride is on the list for one of the most talked about and debated conversation topics. As a result, we are not surprised at the number of patients, asking if it's safe to use. To fully understand its impact on us, it is important to go right back to where Fluoride came from.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is the most simplest anion formed by the natural element Fluorine which is located in group 17 in the Periodic table. It is derived from an element just like Calcium, Magnesium and Iron which a lot of us use on a daily basis in a supplement form to help with deficiencies we may have. So, why then are there not more debates surrounding Calcium, Magnesium or Iron?
What is Decay?
Dental Caries, also more commonly known as 'decay' is caused by breakdown overtime of the tooth surface due to plaque. Plaque contains bacteria (Streptococcus Mutans, Streptococcus Sobrinus and Lactobacilli) which converts sugars and carbohydrates in foods to acid. This softens the tooth's surface creating decay/cavities. An important point to note with decay is that you generally don't feel pain until the decay is very close to the nerve.
How does fluoride protect the tooth against decay?
Fluoride is a mineral. For dental purposes it comes in the form of toothpaste, mouth rinse, topical gel and it can also be found in very low doses in tap water. Fluoride's main job is to protect our teeth from decay. It does this by strengthening the tooth's protective enamel. Secondly, when eating or drinking sugary or acidic foods/drinks, this changes the PH of our mouths (making it a more acidic environment). This makes the enamel weaker and Fluoride can neutralise the saliva which lowers risk of decay.
Another benefit of Fluoride is that it can, reverse early enamel decay reducing the risk of a filling being needed (Wilkins, 2013). Fluoride applied topically gets absorbed into your enamel, where as when drinking tap water Fluoride is absorbed through the bloodstream which not only helps in strengthening the enamel but can also strengthen our bones as well. The amount of Fluoride in tap water is significantly lower than the amount in toothpaste/ mouthrinses. The reason for this is that we ingest water whereas we spit out the toothpaste.
Is Fluoride toxic to me or my children?
It is very-very rare for children or adults to experience toxicity due to over-consumption of Fluoride, but in rare occasions it can happen. Having said that, this over-consumption/toxicity needs to be understood in context.
In order to measure a toxic amount of Fluoride, exposure is based on body weight. A child of approximately three-years-old would need to ingest at minimum ½ tube of adult toothpaste to be at risk of toxicity! This is the reason why it states on all tubes to keep away from children and to only use a pea-size amount. It is the same as any medication, when the amount consumed is not as prescribed. For example, if a three-year-old accidentally swallowed ½ the bottle of strawberry flavoured Paracetamol, we would say the child would have toxicity from that, also.
Fluoride is a hugely important natural mineral for not only our teeth but our bones as well. It has amazing properties to prevent our teeth against nasty decay. There is a lot of talk out there that Fluoride is detrimental to our health, but from all the scientific research done (not just surface research), there are no conclusive facts that state that Fluoride is harming or toxic to us. Instead, it discusses how detrimental the bacteria in decay and gum disease are to our health, as it affects the rest of our body e.g heart disease and diabetes
It's really important for anybody concerned to thoroughly research Fluoride and decide for themselves if the minimal risks of Fluoride outweigh the amazing benefits.
One last question to leave you with: Is using a pea size amount of toothpaste 2x daily to clean our teeth more harmful to us than rotting decayed teeth (full of nasty bacteria) leaching into our bloodstream?