You may hear a lot about fluoride as a means for preventing cavities and reversing the early signs of tooth decay. It's in water and added to a lot of oral health products. So what is fluoride actually doing for your teeth? Let's take a closer look.
What is Fluoride?
As the American Dental Association (ADA) notes, fluorine is a natural mineral found throughout the earth's crust as the fluoride ion. Fluoride compounds form in rocks and soil. As groundwater flows over the earth's surface, it dissolves fluoride compounds and sweeps their minerals into natural bodies of water like rivers, lakes and even the oceans. All natural bodies of water have some levels of fluroride. Fluoride ions also occur naturally in most food and beverages at varying concentrations.
Fluoride is important for preventing tooth decay in two ways: when it is systemically injested through your food and water, especially while teeth are developing, and topically when you brush with a fluoride toothpaste, use a fluoride rinse or visit your dentist.
Because fluoride contains these properties that make teeth stronger, the United States started adding it to public water systems in the mid-1900s as a widespread public health initiative. Accprding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the results were incredible. For over 70 years it has consistently reduced tooth decay in children and adults by 25 percent. The CDC named community water fluoridation one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Since then, oral health products have been enriched with fluoride too.
What is Fluoride Doing for My Enamel?
Tooth decay is essentially the destruction of your tooth enamel, as summed up by the ADA. Decay is subtle in the beginning so there's a chance you might not even notice it happening. Early signs of tooth decay can be tooth sensitivity or discoloring. When you eat carbohydrates like pasta or sweets, the plaque on your teeth cause an acid attack. These acids demineralize your enamel, stripping it of important nutrients. Later, saliva rinses away debris and remineralizes the surface of your teeth. During the remineralization process, your saliva actually redeposits calcium and phosphate ions onto the surface of your tooth. When fluoride is present in your saliva, it hardens those minerals, making them more difficult to destroy the next time an acid attack hits.
Am I Getting Enough Fluoride?
It's important to make healthy food choices to reduce the frequency of acid attacks, but it's impossible to totally eliminate them. To strengthen your enamel for those times when attacks do spike, expose your teeth to fluoride regularly. Drink tap water to keep fluoride present in your saliva. Also use oral health products that are enriched with fluoride and support remineralization like Colgate® Enamel Health™ New Mineral Repair™ Toothpaste. Swishing with a rinse like Colgate® Enamel Health™ Mouthwash, Alcohol-Free will help you reach those areas that are easy to miss when brushing.
Protect your enamel by making sure you are getting enough fluoride both from the water you drink and the products you use. Tooth remineralization can prevent cavities and reverse the early signs of tooth decay.