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Fluoride: Why This Mineral’s a Real Gem When It Comes to Your Smile

This Mineral’s a Real Gem When It Comes to Your Smile

Fluoride. It’s in our toothpaste, the treatments we receive from the dentist and even in the water we drink. But what exactly is fluoride, what does it do for our teeth and how does it work?

What exactly is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found throughout the earth’s crust and environment. Because plants absorb fluoride directly from the groundwater, a small amount of fluoride can be found in our food and water, and also accumulates in the tissues of animals. Fluoride became one of dental science’s best weapons against tooth decay once studies at the beginning of the 20th century found that people who lived in areas with trace elements of fluoride in drinking water were less likely to have imperfections in their teeth.

What does fluoride do to your teeth?

Fluoride is used in the fight against tooth decay and the cavities (or dental caries) that usually accompany it. Which is no small feat, considering the fact that according to a recent study, approximately 91% of American adults have dental caries in permanent teeth.

How does fluoride work?

When you eat foods containing sugars (and starches that eventually turn into sugar) such as candy, soft drinks, cake, raisins and even milk, plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria within that plaque produces acids that attack the tooth enamel, causing important minerals to be lost (demineralization), with the final result being tooth decay.

Then when you consume foods with essential minerals such as calcium, and phosphate, these minerals are redeposited to the enamel layer. This same remineralization process is also what happens when your teeth are exposed to the mineral, fluoride. Any remineralization helps to repair and fortify the tooth’s enamel, making it more resistant to cavity-causing tooth decay.

Additionally, fluoride also has the ability to reverse early decay. In children under six, fluoride actually becomes incorporated into permanent teeth as they are developing, making it difficult for acids to demineralize the teeth. Fluoride also helps speed remineralization by keeping acid production at bay and therefore protect teeth that have already emerged in both children and adults.

Where’s the best place to find it?

The importance of fluoride for teeth is clear, but how can you make sure that you’re getting enough of it? If you’re concerned about whether fluoride is working for you, you can ask your dentist for advice, but here are some of the common sources:

  • Fluoride toothpaste. Brushing your teeth thoroughly twice a day is one of the best ways to combat tooth decay. There is a wide variety of fluoride toothpaste available, containing different amounts of fluoride, with. toothpastes containing 1350-1500 ppm (parts per million) being the most effective.

  • Fluoride mouth rinses. One way to combat tooth decay is by using fluoride mouth rinses twice a day. Rinses should be used at different times than tooth brushing, as the rinse can wash the fluoride toothpaste off your teeth, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

  • Fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is a highly concentrated form of fluoride that is applied directly to a tooth’s surface by a dentist. It is usually applied once every six months and works by strengthening tooth enamel and making it more resistant to decay.

  • Community water fluoridation. This is the process of fluoride being added to the water supply at its source. It was first introduced in the U.S. in 1945 and is the most cost-effective way to deliver fluoride to the whole population. Drinking fluoridated water has been found to reduce tooth cavities in adults by about 25%. In fact, community water fluoridation has been so successful in reducing tooth decay that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named it one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

So now that you have a better idea of how fluoride works, and the best places to find it, you can put fluoride to use in fighting tooth decay and strengthening your teeth to maintain a beautiful, healthy smile.

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