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The Truth About Fluoride: Fact vs. Fiction

What’s as controversial as vaccinations? As it turns out, it’s fluoride (for some people). Did you know this mineral—which occurs naturally in soil, water, and air—has been added to most public water supplies in the United States for the last 70 years as a public health measure to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities? Many people, particularly parents, worry about overexposure when it’s in the water we drink, the toothpaste we brush with twice a day, and in the fluoride treatments we receive at the dentist.

If you’re concerned about the safety of fluoride, the dentists at Alpine Dental Health want to assure you that fluoride is a safe and effective way to protect your teeth from decay. Fluoride helps strengthen teeth, prevent cavities, and reverse early tooth decay by making them more resistant to acid attacks from plaque, bacteria and sugars in the mouth.

Fluoride facts you need to know—and understand

Let’s take a closer look at fluoride facts and common misconceptions:

Fact or fiction: Fluoride is toxic.

Fact (but highly unlikely): Wait, what? But we just said it was safe and effective. So, which is it? The truth is most things are toxic and have side effects when consumed in excess, even water. For example, foods that are typically considered healthy like cinnamon, nutmeg, and omega-3 fatty acids can be toxic if over consumed.

The small amount of fluoride found in toothpaste, water and dental treatments is safe. If a young child swallows too much toothpaste, they may experience minor tummy upset for a short time. The best way to protect against extremely rare cases of fluoride toxicity is to keep all toothpaste and mouth rinse out of your children’s reach to prevent them from consuming it in excess.

Fact or fiction: Fluoride causes cancer and other serious health problems.

Fiction: The American Academy of Family Physicians, the Institute of Medicine and many other respected authorities endorse water fluoridation as safe and effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that panels of experts from different health and scientific fields have provided strong evidence that public water fluoridation is safe and effective.

Moreover, a 2011 Harvard study found no link between fluoride and bone cancer, which strengthens confidence that fluoride is safe to use in toothpaste, water, and dental treatments.

Fact or fiction: Fluoride damages teeth.

Fiction: The benefits of fluoride to improve dental health are clear. Occasionally, some young children may develop a slight change in the appearance of their teeth, called dental fluorosis, which can occur if children ingest too much fluoride over a long period of time while their adult teeth are forming under the gums. Only children 8 years of age and younger are at risk for fluorosis. As the adult teeth grow in, they can have tiny white specks or streaks on them.

The good news is these marks are often unnoticeable and do not affect the health of the teeth. Cavities are much more noticeable and damaging to teeth than fluorosis, so the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Fact or fiction: Children should not use toothpaste with fluoride.

Fiction: Until recently, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommended that children under 2 years not use toothpaste with fluoride. In fact, they recommended brushing with only water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dental decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States, affecting more than 16 million children. For this reason and more, the ADA’s Council of Scientific Affairs (CSA) updated their guidance in 2014.

Based on this new scientific evidence, the ADA now recommends children brush their teeth with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) as soon as their first tooth comes in to help prevent tooth decay.

Fact or fiction: Drinking fluoridated water helps prevent tooth decay.

Fact: Water fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing dental decay. Though some water supplies naturally contain more than others, adding fluoride to public water supplies is a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay.

Fact or fiction: Consuming fluoride during childhood strengthens our teeth throughout our lifetime.

Fact: Babies and children need fluoride to strengthen their growing teeth. In fact, children who drink fluoridated water as their teeth grow are more likely to have stronger teeth that are resistant to tooth decay into adulthood. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using a dietary fluoride supplement for children aged 6 months to 16 years if the public water supply isn’t fluoridated.

What are the benefits of fluoride?

Fluoride helps rebuild weakened tooth enamel, slow the loss of minerals from tooth enamel, reverse the early signs of tooth decay and prevent the growth of harmful oral bacteria.

When the bacteria in your mouth break down the sugars and carbs from the food you eat, they produce acids that eat away at your teeth, which can lead to decay and cavities if left untreated. Fluoride helps remineralize your tooth enamel, which can prevent cavities and reverse early signs of decay.

Still not convinced or have more questions about the safety, efficacy and power of fluoride? Ask a skilled dentist at Alpine Dental Health how fluoride can help improve your smile at your next hygiene appointment.

Want to know more about Alpine Dental Health? Get the answers you need on our FAQ page. If you’re experiencing a specific dental problem, you can also schedule a personalized consultation at one of our five convenient locations along Colorado’s Front Range, including downtown Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. We want to ensure you receive the best possible information about your treatment options so you can feel confident and enjoy a healthy, beautiful smile!

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