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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Regular Dental Hygiene Visits

If you hear gentle reminders from us about the importance of your regular hygiene exams, there’s good reason.

These exams – what many people know as professional tooth cleanings – are the key to keeping your smile healthy! Did you know that dental problems often develop without pain? Because we genuinely care about your dental health, we emphasize prevention and education in our practice.

Our goal is to diagnose any problems early, when treatment is easier and less expensive.

Your regular hygiene exam is the best safeguard against major dental problems.

What Happens During a Typical Hygiene Visit

Working under the supervision of our dentists, our professional dental hygienists perform several essential functions of your dental care. During a typical appointment, your hygienist will

  • Remove soft deposits (plaque) and hard deposits (tartar) from your teeth
  • Examine your gums and teeth to note the presence of disease or decay for diagnosis by our dentists
  • Polish and smooth your tooth surfaces to make it more difficult for disease-causing plaque and debris to accumulate on your teeth

Depending on your dental needs, your hygienist may also

  • Take dental x-rays, important for helping us find and treat problems that cannot be seen with a simple oral exam
  • Perform scaling and root planning, a periodontal gum therapy
  • Apply fluoride or sealants to your teeth

Our professional dental hygienists are here to share their extensive knowledge and experience with you, including proper brushing and flossing techniques as well as the relationship between your diet and your oral health. Good dental home care combined with regular professional tooth cleanings are the best bet for preventing cavities and other problems.

Please don’t hesitate to ask our friendly hygienists any questions you may have!

No dental treatment we offer is more important than how well you care for your teeth at home. Daily brushing and flossing, as well as a balanced diet, have the biggest impact on your oral health.

Brushing with Fluoride Toothpaste

When it comes to dental home care (and preventing cavities), daily brushing reigns supreme. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, once in the morning and once at night. This removes plaque – a sticky, harmful film of bacteria – and helps prevent decay. Are you using toothpaste for sensitive teeth? If so, it’s a good idea to talk to us about your symptoms. We can rule out larger problems and recommend appropriate treatments to help with your sensitive teeth.

Electric Toothbrushes: Your Best Option for Dental Hygiene

At Alpine Dental Health, we join the American Dental Association in recommending electric toothbrushes, which make it easier to use the correct technique for preventing cavities and maintaining good oral health. Electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual ones at removing plaque and reducing early gum disease (gingivitis). Electric toothbrushes move bristles at a much faster speed than you could possibly achieve manually, and they also are better at removing plaque in hard-to-reach places.

Daily Flossing

Why bother to floss? When it comes to the health of your mouth and preventing gum disease, daily flossing is as important as brushing. That’s because floss removes plaque and food stuck between your teeth and under your gum line – places even an electric toothbrush can’t reach.

Eating a Balanced Diet Helps Keep Your Mouth and Body Healthy

Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay. The USDA’s Food Pyramid is a tool that can help you make healthy choices.

We are always here to help you improve the care you give your teeth and gums at home. Please ask our friendly and knowledgeable team any questions you may have. We’d love to help!

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