Fluoride is an ion of the element fluorine. Fluorine is one of the most common elements in the earth’s surface, which means that many people are naturally exposed to fluoride through their diet (seafood, for example, is high in fluoride) or through natural water sources (well water can be high in fluoride). It was through these natural exposures that we came to understand the protective effect of fluoride for teeth. People noticed that when consuming natural water supplies high in fluoride, they experienced lower rates of tooth decay. Eventually, this led to water fluoridation for municipal water supplies, which has contributed to lower rates of tooth decay and loss, despite the fact that we now consume so much more sugar than people in the past. Fluoride has two mechanisms that can protect your teeth. First, it can strengthen tooth enamel. Our tooth enamel is made out of hydroxyapatite, a complex mineral that is strong, but vulnerable to chemical attack. Acids strip calcium and phosphate out of these molecules. Your saliva has the ability to add these back in, and if it has fluoride, that can be added, too. The result is that your teeth now have many molecules of fluorapatite, which is actually stronger and more resistant to acid attack.

What Is the Value of Brushing?

Why do we brush our teeth? Is it just a toothpaste delivery system, or does the act of brushing make all the difference? There is a potential value to brushing our teeth. One source of acid that damages our teeth and leads to cavities is oral bacteria. These bacteria like to feed on sugars, which they eat and use to build a protective biofilm around themselves. This biofilm, along with some food residue, is what we call “plaque.” The longer plaque stays on our teeth, the more time bacteria have to excrete acid on the tooth, the more cavities are going to develop. The good news is that plaque is relatively easy to remove. You can do it with a soft brush–plaque is about as hard as yogurt. So, from the standpoint of removing plaque, toothpaste isn’t necessary. Brushing is all it takes.

Fluoride Toothpaste Still Helps

Even though you can remove plaque with a toothbrush, that might not be enough. A recent review of research showed that carefully cleaning your teeth without fluoride didn’t reduce your risk of cavities. On the other hand, research shows that fluoride treatments (which, admittedly, is more than just regular toothpaste), can reduce the risk of cavities by 30 to 50%. That’s a big difference. Imagine 50% fewer fillings, crowns, and implants. That is worth the trouble of using a fluoride toothpaste.

But Is Fluoride Toxic?

We mentioned above that fluoride is a very common element, so most of us get exposed to it all the time anyway. If it were very toxic, there would be large swathes of the earth that would be simply uninhabitable due to the presence of natural fluoride. However, it is true that fluoride, like anything, can be poisonous in high doses. But there’s some more good news: the difference between an effective dose of fluoride and a toxic one is really big. A toxic dose of fluoride is about 100 times greater than an effective dose. So it doesn’t matter if you get a little more fluoride than recommended because you accidentally swallow some toothpaste.

We Can Help Protect Your Teeth

There are many different approaches to protecting your teeth from decay. Personal oral hygiene is critical, but so are regular dental checkups. We can not only clean your teeth, but can also use fluoride treatments to help reduce your risk of cavities. If you are looking for a dentist to help protect your teeth in Blue Bell, PA or surrounding areas of Montgomery County, please call (610) 272-0828 today for an appointment with Dr. Ken Siegel at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell.