Fluoride & Your Health
What is Fluoride, and why is it good for my teeth?
Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found universally throughout nature in water, soil, air and in most foods. Existing abundantly in living tissue as an ion, fluoride is absorbed easily into tooth enamel, especially in children’s growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is even visible.
“Systemic” fluoride is ingested when added to public and private water supplies, soft drinks and teas, and is available in dietary supplement form. Once systemic fluoride is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract, the blood supply distributes it throughout the entire body. Most fluoride not excreted is deposited in bones and hard tissues like teeth.
What’s a “topical” fluoride, and when should I use it?
“Topical” fluoride is found in products containing strong concentrations of fluoride to fight tooth decay. These products, including toothpastes and mouthrinses, are applied directly to the teeth and are the expectorated or rinsed from the mouth without swallowing. Dentists recommend brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day or after every meal, combined with a regimen of flossing and regular dental checkups.
Professionally-administered topical fluorides such as gels or varnishes are applied by the dentist and left on for about four minutes, usually during a cleaning treatment. For patients with a high risk of dental caries, the dentist may prescribe a special gel for daily home use, to be applied with or without a mouth tray for up to six weeks.
Why is most of the water we drink fluoridated?
Fluoridated water protects against cavities and root caries – a progressive erosion of adult root surfaces caused by gum recession – and helps remineralize early carious lesions. Thanks to these preventive benefits, public water fluoridation is considered the most efficient and cost-effective dental caries prevention measure available. More than 144 million United States residents in more than 10,000 communities drink fluoridated water, most from public water supplies with sodium fluoride added artificially. A small percentage get water from private wells with naturally fluoridated water.
Water fluoridation is endorsed by nearly every major health and safety-related organization. Fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and to improve oral health for a lifetime.
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