How Important Is Fluoride Really?

The effect that fluoride has on teeth was accidentally discovered by a dentist in Colorado at the beginning of the 21st century, who noticed that the residents of the Colorado town all had stained teeth. Dr. Frederick McKay noticed that almost all of the residents had mottled teeth that were surprisingly resistant to decay. Upon discovering that the condition resulted from fluoride water, studies began to analyze the effects of fluoride on tooth enamel. Fluoridation of public water supplies became a policy of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1951, and about two-thirds of the US population has fluoridated public water today.

Every day, minerals are lost and regained from a tooth’s enamel layer through two processes, remineralization and demineralization. Minerals are lost (demineralization) from a tooth’s enamel layer when acids formed from the bacteria and sugars in the mouth attack the enamel. Minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate are redeposited (remineralization) to the enamel layer from the foods and waters consumed. When the balance is tipped towards more demineralization, tooth decay begins.

tooth illustration giving thumbs up

Fluoride, which occurs naturally in many foods and water, helps prevent the process of tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks. Fluoride can also reverse tooth decay in its early stages. In children under 6 years of age, fluoride becomes incorporated into the development of permanent teeth, making it difficult for acids to demineralize the teeth. Fluoride helps speed remineralization and disrupts acid production in the teeth of both children and adults.

Fluoride for Children

Infants and children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years should be exposed to fluoride. This is the time during which the baby teeth and permanent teeth come in. Adults benefit from fluoride, too. New research indicates that topical fluoride — from toothpaste, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatments — is as important in fighting tooth decay as it is in strengthening developing teeth.

Fluoride is so important to your oral health that it is included in virtually every toothpaste approved by the ADA. It has become a crucial part of modern dental care in the fight against tooth decay. To protect your teeth, be sure to brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly, and visit your dentist for regular checkups.