What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a form of the element fluorine. It occurs naturally in mineral formations and in all natural bodies of water around the world. Fluoride that is added to drinking water comes from natural calcium deposits in phosphate rock, which are then purified. Fluoride is considered safe in appropriate amounts, and recommended for good dental health by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
How Does Fluoride Work?
In the early 1900's it was discovered that entire populations in Colorado had no tooth decay where natural fluoride levels were high. Fluoride has been found to strengthen tooth enamel by attaching at the molecular level. It disables acid-forming bacteria in the mouth by reducing their acid production (the main cause of tooth decay), as well as their ability to stick to tooth structure.
How Can Fluoride Help?
There are several ways that fluoride, in optimal doses, can help -
Water Fluoridation has been the most significant in reducing dental caries (cavities), especially in children, by strengthening their newly forming teeth.
Supplemental Fluoride in the form of tablets or drops is recommended for children with very little, or no, fluoride in their drinking water, children at high risk for tooth decay and children over 6 months of age. Fluoride supplements are available by dental or medical prescription only.
Fluoride Rinses can topically strengthen already erupted teeth. They are recommended for children and adults at high risk for dental decay, and should only be used if the child or adult is able to rinse and spit.
Fluoride Toothpaste should be used in smaller amounts for young children. It is recommended that a smear no bigger than a rice grain be used for children under 3 years of age and no more than a small pea-sized amount for ages 3-6. Supervised tooth brushing is recommended twice daily to ensure that the correct amount is used.
Professional Fluoride Treatments can be administered periodically by a dental or medical provider as soon as teeth begin to appear.
How Much Fluoride Do We Need?
In order to determine this, all sources of fluoride ingestion, as well as risk for decay, are factors that need to be considered. Well water may contain fluoride at varying levels and can be tested specifically for fluoride content to determine how much is in the water the family drinks at home. Schools, day care centers, friends' and relatives' homes where water is consumed should also be noted. Foods which are prepared with fluoridated water, including processed foods, also contain it. Fluoride does not pass from mother to baby through breast milk, but breast milk has so many of its own benefits that fluoride supplements are not indicated. However, most infant formulas do contain fluoride.
The following is a link to the most current list of fluoridated communities in Maine. Some changes may have occurred since it was last updated.
Audrey Stack, DDS, is a pediatric dentist at Community Dental.