Why all the fuss about fluoride? Your pediatric dentist recommends it, your child’s toothpaste is formulated with it, and most of our drinking water contains it. Just what is it about this mineral that makes dental professionals sing its praises? Read on for three good reasons why fluoride is a healthy choice for healthier teeth.
- Fluoride Works!
Fluoride is an attractive option for protecting your child’s teeth—and we mean that literally. Fluoride protects the surface of teeth by working on a molecular level to attract minerals that strengthen enamel and help prevent cavities.
Our tooth enamel is mostly made from calcium and phosphate ions. These elements combine to form hydroxyapatite, strong crystals which make up about 95% of our enamel. Hydroxyapatite is so strong, in fact, that tooth enamel is the hardest part of our bodies. What can go wrong?
Acids. Acids created by the bacteria in plaque and the acids in our diet strip away the calcium and phosphate ions in enamel, weakening the surface of the tooth. This process is called demineralization. Over time, weak spots become bigger as acids eat through enamel to the inner tooth, causing decay and cavities.
So, what can fluoride do?
First, fluoride helps remineralize tooth enamel. Fluoride is attracted to the tooth’s surface and bonds with its minerals. It also attracts the calcium and phosphate ions which are found in our saliva to restore any minerals which have been lost. This process helps repair any weak spots which might have begun to form.
But fluoride does more than restore and repair tooth strength—it improves it! Fluoride ions join with calcium and phosphate to form fluorapatite crystals, which are larger and stronger than hydroxyapatite crystals. Even better? These new crystals are more resistant to acids.
- Fluoride Is Doubly Effective
Fluoride works both externally and internally. We just looked at how fluoride helps keep teeth strong when applied to the outside of the teeth. This is called a topical application. Systemic benefits come the fluoride we consume in our diets.
Fluoride isn’t found in many foods, but it is found naturally in lakes, rivers, and other water sources. When the local water’s fluoride level is low, many communities add fluoride for its proven ability to prevent cavities. Water fluoridation is safe, has been studied for decades, and has been shown to reduce the risk of cavities by 25% or more for both children and adults.
Systemic fluoride is important for baby teeth, as fluoride joins with minerals in adult teeth while they grow and develop. This creates stronger, more cavity-resistant teeth even before they erupt.
When your child’s permanent teeth come in, fluoride is still at work! When your child drinks fluoridated water, they increasing the amount of fluoride in their saliva. Just like fluoride toothpaste, saliva bathes the teeth with fluoride ions, remineralizing and strengthening the tooth surface and helping repair weak spots in enamel.
- It’s Easy to Get Fluoride Protection
Because so much of our drinking water is fluoridated, most of us really don’t have to think about how to get the recommended amount of fluoride in our diet each day. If your community’s water is low in fluoride, Drs. Joanne Oppenheim, Marilia Montero, and Mary J. Hayes can help you. Prescription fluoride rinses, gels, supplements, and other treatments are available at our Chicago pediatric dental office to make sure that your child’s teeth are well protected, wherever you may live. We will let you know which products are best for your child and how often to use them.
Fluoride isn’t, of course, the only way to look out for your dental health. Proper brushing and flossing are still essential for removing plaque. And sealants provide long-lasting protection for chewing surfaces. But when it comes to a proven cavity-fighter that’s simple to use, effective, and easily available—is it any wonder we’re big fans of fluoride?