Between its addition to most kinds of toothpaste and the drinking water in many communities in Ontario, you’ve likely heard about fluoride. You may have even had a fluoride treatment as part of a dental exam and cleaning.
But what exactly is fluoride? What is a fluoride treatment, and why do we use it? And, most importantly, is fluoride safe?
Unpack the basics of fluoride with your friendly Markham Dental Smiles team in this blog and discover the mineral’s benefits (and drawbacks).
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a natural mineral found nearly everywhere—soil, food, air, and water. It’s the ionic form of fluorine, one of the elements listed in the periodic table.
What Does Fluoride Do?
Fluoride is an asset in the fight against tooth decay. Our mouth is a busy place, with chemical reactions happening all the time. When our food is broken down, it forms acids that eat away at tooth enamel—fluoride helps slow that damage down.
The benefits of fluoride include:
- Protecting the mouth from bacterial growth
- Reversing signs of tooth decay in the early stages
- Slowing down mineral loss from enamel
- Strengthening weakened tooth enamel (remineralization)
How Are People Exposed to Fluoride?
One of the main ways we in Canada are exposed to fluoride is water fluoridation. Here in Markham, our water is fluoridated, so if you drink tap water, you’re getting small doses of fluoride meant to help keep your teeth resistant to cavities.
Water fluoridation is nothing new. It’s a system that’s been studied and implemented in Canada since the 1940s. Research over time has shown us that fluoridating the water supply has helped with lowering tooth decay rates. Studies show that this public investment in our oral health also saves families money.
Outside of the fluoride added to the water supply, we’re also exposed to trace amounts of fluoride in our food.
The other way we’re exposed to fluoride is in our dental care routine. Products like toothpaste and mouth rinses, and more concentrated gels, foams, and varnishes, can be found with fluoride added for extra enamel protection. Dentists can also recommend fluoride supplements.
In What Forms Is Fluoride Available?
There are 2 different ways our bodies can use fluoride: systemically and topically.
Systemic fluoride is the fluoride we ingest. As we digest our food and drink, fluoride is absorbed into our bodies and winds up in our teeth and bones. The fluoride that our body doesn’t need is usually excreted. Systemic fluoride can be found in:
- Most drinking water in Canada
- Food and drink, such as tea
Topical fluoride is the type we apply directly to our teeth for their protection. We find topical fluoride in:
- Mouth rinses
There are over-the-counter products that contain fluoride, as well as professional fluoride treatments that you can get with a visit to your dentist.
What to Expect During Professional Fluoride Treatments
Professional fluoride treatments at the dentist help maintain oral health. The fluoride treatments you receive during a dental exam and cleaning have a higher concentration than what you may use at home. These treatments usually come as a:
Professional treatments don’t take long. Fluoride will be applied to your teeth with a swab, brush, tray, or mouthwash. Your dental healthcare team will likely recommend not eating or drinking for about half an hour following the appointment to let the fluoride take full effect.
Fluoride in Childhood
Childhood is the most critical time for fluoride intake. Since children’s teeth are developing, introducing an appropriate amount of fluoride may help build enamel that is more resistant to wear and provides the teeth with a healthy environment.
However, a careful balance should be achieved in the amount of fluoride your child is exposed to. Since most tap water in Canada is fluoridated, you want to ensure they’re not swallowing any toothpaste containing fluoride. Ingesting high amounts of fluoride can cause problems, so be sure to talk to your child’s dentist about their fluoride intake.
One way to instill healthy habits in your children is to help them with brushing their teeth. Supervising young children as they brush is a great way to help with:
- Teaching your children the proper way to brush their teeth
- Checking that they haven’t missed any areas of their mouth while they brush
- Reminding them to spit their toothpaste out
Making oral health care a bonding experience for you and your child gives you a chance to instill the importance of good oral hygiene in your little one as you keep their brushing routine safe.
Are There Risks Associated With Fluoride Use?
There are certain risks associated with fluoride. The dangers stem mainly from excess exposure to fluoride.
Dental fluorosis occurs when too much fluoride is taken in as your adult teeth develop under the gums in childhood. The result is small white spots on the adult teeth. You can’t develop dental fluorosis after your adult teeth have come in.
Skeletal fluorosis is due to a buildup of fluoride in the bones and joints, which causes them to harden. This condition is caused by a high intake of fluoride over a long period of time and is very rare in Canada.
In very high doses, fluoride can have toxic effects. This is possible in the event of an overdose of fluoride supplements or a serious environmental contamination event. Signs of fluoride toxicity include:
- Nausea & vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive salivating
- Seizures & muscle spasms
It’s important to remember that severe illness related to fluoride tends to occur only with serious overexposure. Many health-promoting substances can harm us in extreme doses; even water, zinc, and vitamin D need to be kept at appropriate levels. Overall, fluoride in appropriate amounts is safe.
The Breakdown: Benefits of Fluoride Explained
Professional fluoride treatments are worth the cost.
Since fluoride treatments help strengthen the enamel and prevent cavities, a little spent upfront can save you a lot in the future! Having a dental professional apply your fluoride ensures you’re getting the right amount of fluoride exposure for your teeth.
Fluoride fights cavities by strengthening enamel.
Acids and sugars in the food we eat all attack the enamel in our mouth. Weakened enamel allows for cavities to grow. Since fluoride helps boost your enamel, your teeth are better defended against cavities after a treatment!
Fluoride treatments are not just for kids!
Anyone can benefit from fluoride treatments, but they’re especially beneficial to anyone who is prone to cavities, has difficulty accessing dental care, has a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars or snacks regularly.
Professional fluoride treatments can reverse small cavities!
Small cavities can mean more damage if they’re left to grow unchecked. Thankfully, if a cavity is caught in its early stages, fluoride exposure may be able to slow and even reverse it.
Professional fluoride treatments do not stain teeth.
As mentioned earlier, fluoride cannot stain teeth once they’ve developed and grown in, so no staining will occur from a topical fluoride treatment on adult teeth. Dental professionals can assess how much fluoride is needed based on your oral health and lifestyle information.
Visit Your Dentist For Oral Care & Cavity Prevention
We’re always happy to discuss your dental health. Book an appointment at Markham Dental Smiles to learn more about the benefits of fluoride.