Fluoride and Dental Health
When I was a kid, the part of a dentist appointment I dreaded the most was not the cleaning or the exam but the fluoride trays. I hated waiting for what seemed like eternity with trays of cold, bubblegum-flavored goo sitting on my teeth (I eventually stopped picking bubblegum flavor, which certainly improved the experience). At the time, I didn’t know the connection between fluoride and dental health. Now I do, and it can be summed up in two words: no cavities.
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening and rebuilding enamel. In addition to tooth pasts and mouthwashes, fluoride is often added to tap water. As of 2012, 75% of the United States population has access to fluoridated tap water. The addition of fluoride to tap water and other products has corresponded with a significant drop in tooth decay. 1
There are no health risks associated with consuming fluoride, though children younger than eight years old who consume fluoride may develop changes in the appearance of their teeth, a condition called dental fluorosis. In mild cases, dental fluorosis appears as small white flecks on the teeth, while severely affected teeth may appear pitted and discolored. However, severe case are extremely rare where fluoride is at levels recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (0.7 parts per million).2 Dental fluorosis does not affect the health of teeth, only their appearance.3
Fluoridation of drinking water is among the CDC’s “Ten Great Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century” alongside innovations such as immunizations and motor-vehicle safety.4 You can find out if your community’s water is fluoridated by going to My Water’s Fluoride and searching for your state and water system.
- “Fluoridation Basics,” Centers for Disease Control, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm
- “Community Water Fluoridation: Frequently Asked Questions,” Centers for Disease Control, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/faqs/
- Anne Kendall, Facts about Fluoride, FCS8798, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2013, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy887
- “Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century,” Centers for Disease Control, 2013, http://www.cdc.gov/about/history/tengpha.htm
Photo credits: Helmut Seisenberger/iStock/Thinkstock
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