For many, many years, it was commonly believed that the more fluoride you were able to get into your body, the better off you would be – especially when it comes to oral health. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Though fluoride certainly can help to prevent tooth decay, too much of it can actually cause tooth decay – as well as a host of other issues. Here’s what you should know about fluoride.
What is Fluoride, Anyway?
Fluoride is the negative ion of the element fluorine, which is a metal. You can find it everywhere out in the world, including in dirt, rocks, plants, water, many foods, and even in the air. It helps your bones and teeth form and stay strong – something that has been proven time and again with scientific testing and observation. It is essential in a process called mineralization, which keeps teeth and bones hard. Almost all the fluoride in your body (roughly 99% of it) is found in your teeth and bones.
Numerous studies and observations have proven that fluoride is important in the prevention of caries, also known as cavities, in your teeth. Cavities occur when bacteria living inside your mouth produce acids that erode the mineral-based enamel covering your teeth faster than the remineralization process can replace it, so there is no doubt that you need fluoride in your body for good dental health.
What You Probably Don’t Know about Fluoride
As a child, and later as a parent, you probably believed that it was important to buy fluoridated toothpaste in order to keep your teeth and your children’s teeth healthy and strong. This was the common belief for decades, but the fact of the matter is that it simply isn’t true. Not only do you get fluoride naturally from the food you eat – especially if you eat a healthy, balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables – but in the United States, water treatment facilities add fluoride to your drinking water to help ward off harmful bacteria. This means that if you are still using fluoridated toothpaste, you are getting fluoride from your food, your water, and in high doses in your toothpaste, which is simply too much for most people.
Though that might seem wonderful and help set your mind at ease, there are some problems with this, and the biggest one is called fluorosis. If you consume too much fluoride, you may notice visual changes in your teeth in the form of bright white spots. Though this is mostly a cosmetic issue at first, it can eventually become more severe and cause brown stains and weakened teeth – the very thing fluoride is supposed to prevent. The worst part? You can get fluorosis in your bones, too, as the fluoride accumulates in them. It causes pain, stiffness, and eventually ligament calcification and changes to your bone structure that can result in brittleness.
Fluoride is an essential element and it plays a crucial role in your body, but many people around the world – especially in developed countries – get way too much of it. The best way to reduce your exposure to fluoride is to use a fluoride-free toothpaste and trust that you will get all the fluoride you need from your diet and water. See your dentist and doctor regularly to ensure the health of your bones and teeth, too.