What role does fluoride serve in oral health? Do we really need it?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in our environment. We are exposed to it on a daily basis from the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the ground we walk on. Unfortunately for most people, these extremely low levels are not sufficient to help reduce dental decay. Fluoride is also added to most toothpastes and some mouthwashes. In the dental office setting it can be administered by a varnish painted on to teeth, or by gels in trays or rinses. In certain municipalities, fluoride is added to city water; Victoria and surrounding areas do not have this service.

Fluoride plays an extremely important role in decreasing the risk of developing tooth decay. It can be incorporated into the enamel matrix as the tooth develops in a small child. This incorporation can serve as a life long benefit, especially when combined with good oral hygiene.

Fluoride can also be very useful when used topically (toothpastes, vanishes etc.) If a tooth is starting to develop a cavity, fluoride in the mouth can help strengthen the tooth, stop and sometimes reverse the cavity.

Since Victoria does not add fluoride to their water supply, we are reliant on the above mentioned sources. For most people with good oral hygiene, good health and a healthy diet, this is sufficient. However, there are some people who need the extra fluoride. This extra fluoride can come in various forms, from different sources. It is recommended you speak to your dentist if you have a concern regarding your dental decay susceptibility.

The Canadian Dental Association recommends children by the age of 1 be seen by a dentist. Children under 3 will be assessed to see if they are at risk to develop tooth decay. If yes, parents should use toothpastes with fluoride in small amounts. If no, water and a tooth brush is enough. From ages 3 to 6 supervised toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste is recommended.

It is important to mention dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is a change in the appearance of the enamel. This is a result of over-exposure to fluoride before the age of 8 (while the adult teeth are developing). Usually this over-exposure results from swallowing too much toothpaste, or improper fluoride supplement use. The enamel’s appearance can vary from a mild form (small white spots barely noticeable), to more severe forms (large white spots; pitting of enamel). For this reason it is important to supervise your child while brushing, and if you are using supplements make sure you are measuring correctly.

Finally, it is important to educate yourself on your or your child’s specific oral situation. No one will be better able to this than your dentist or hygienist who has examined your mouth and spoken to you directly.

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