Fluoride: Brushing Away the Myths For Good
Learn how fluoride can boost your dental health and save you money at the dentist’s office
As if picking out toothpaste isn’t hard enough, every time you go down the dental care aisle, it seems like more and more natural, fluoride-free toothpaste options show up.
As more of these products emerge, fluoride’s cavity-fighting reputation gets called into question.
And with the ongoing debate about the safety and effectiveness of this naturally-occurring mineral, it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction.
So, it’s time to set the record straight.
Today, we’re going to brush up on the facts about fluoride and clear up the common myths to help you make the best decision for your dental health.
But first, let’s cover the basics.
What Is Fluoride?
As we mentioned above, fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral. You can find trace amounts in certain foods and bodies of water like rivers, lakes, and oceans.
The scientific community recognizes fluoride as “nature’s cavity fighter” and has proven its ability to strengthen enamel and disrupt the demineralization process (the first stage of tooth decay).
Essentially, if tooth decay were Superman, fluoride would be kryptonite.
Because of its cavity-fighting potential, dental care companies create fluoride toothpaste, and communities all around the world add fluoride to their water supplies to foster cavity-free smiles and reduce dental costs.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s get started with our first myth.
Myth #1: You don’t need fluoride to clean or whiten your teeth.
We should really call this one a misconception because it’s technically true. But it neglects arguably the biggest reason for maintaining your dental hygiene.
Clean, white teeth are a great bonus for brushing twice a day, but the main goal of daily dental care is to protect your teeth from cavities.
Fluoride’s purpose is to stop plaque in its tracks and make your teeth more resistant to decay. So, while you technically don’t need it to keep your smile fresh and clean, you do need it to keep your smile healthy and cavity-free.
Now, this doesn’t mean you absolutely have to use fluoride toothpaste. But if you choose to go the fluoride-free route, it’s essential to get it from other sources.
As we’ll learn in just a moment, access to fluoridated water alone isn’t enough to fend off tooth decay. So, if you don’t get it through your toothpaste, make sure to rinse with a fluoride mouthwash or ask your dentist about fluoride tablets to give your teeth the protection they need.
Myth #2: We get enough fluoride from toothpaste. We don’t need it in our drinking water.
We have much higher concentrations of fluoride in our toothpaste, so why do we need to bother with fluoridated water?
As it turns out, fluoride toothpaste alone isn’t enough. Here’s why:
Although people all across the country use fluoride toothpaste, the tooth decay rate in children and teenagers without access to fluoridated water is up to 45% higher than those with access.
In five different states, studies concluded that decay rates were no less than 32% higher in communities without fluoridated water. Not to mention, tooth decay is the most prevalent condition affecting our children today.
Unfortunately, even with nature’s cavity fighter in our toothpaste, our teeth can still be vulnerable to decay without water fluoridation.
While fluoride toothpaste is a key part of the everyday oral care routine, it works best in combination with fluoridated water to preserve your dental health.
Myth #3: Water fluoridation is the same as forcibly medicating people.
With community water fluoridation, it can seem like we’re being forced to ingest fluoridated water against our will. We should be able to choose, right?
Well, there are two key things to consider here.
- Remember, fluoride is found naturally in most water sources. Some areas have higher concentrations than others, but no matter where you live, chances are your tap water has some level of fluoride in it already. So, rather than being a matter of choice, it’s more a matter of exactly how much fluoride you’re taking in. And if there’s already some in your water supply, why not have enough to help prevent tooth decay?
- Fluoride isn’t a medication. US court rulings and the American Journal of Public Health recognize fluoride as a naturally-occurring mineral. And luckily for us, it’s a mineral that, when applied in the right amounts, can help keep our teeth and bones healthy.
Myth #4: Fluoride causes cancer.
Concern about a link between fluoride and cancer has been around for decades.
In 1990, a National Toxicology Program study found that male rats given high-fluoride water over two years developed an unusually high number of bone tumors.
Naturally, this ignited further debate.
But since then, according to the National Cancer Institute, human and animal studies have consistently shown no link between fluoridated water and increased cancer risk.
In recent years, scientific studies by the Journal of Dental Research (2011), the International Journal of Epidemiology (2014), and Cancer Causes & Control (2016) support this conclusion.
So, you can enjoy your tap water with peace of mind and a cavity-resistant smile!
Myth #5: Fluoridated water is bad for babies and children.
Many parents worry that by drinking fluoridated water, their children may develop what’s called fluorosis.
Fluorosis can occur when babies and children are exposed to too much fluoride. This condition causes white spots and discoloration to appear on the enamel, but it’s purely cosmetic and doesn’t cause any pain or adverse health effects.
While it is true that high concentrations of fluoride can cause fluorosis, the majority of cases in the United States are mild. In the past, instances of this condition have encouraged health organizations to update their suggested fluoride levels in community water supplies.
That’s why in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed their recommendations to decrease the risk of fluorosis while still preventing tooth decay.
Nowadays, the risk of fluorosis is incredibly low. And even if it does develop, the cases are typically very mild.
The American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC all agree that fluoride is safe for infants and children and encourage its use. Getting the right amount of fluoride when they’re young has a massive impact on the health and strength of your child’s teeth throughout their life.
Myth #6: Many countries in Europe don’t use water fluoridation.
Another “true” myth!
If they don’t do it over there, why do we do it here?
While many countries in Europe don’t have fluoridated water, most of them get their fluoride from other sources.
Some countries––like Germany, France, and Switzerland––use fluoridated salt. And according to the AAP, these countries have some of the lowest tooth decay rates in all of Europe. Other countries use fluoridated milk or get all the fluoride they need from their natural drinking water.
If you’re wondering which countries do use fluoridated water, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain are the big three.
And here’s a fun fact: Ireland and Singapore are the only countries in the world that legally mandate water fluoridation.
Fact: Getting your daily dose of fluoride is essential for your dental health
Fluoride is a crucial element for promoting dental health, and while adding it to the water supply may not be the method of choice for everyone, it’s worked wonders here in the US.
In recent years, studies have shown that the amount people save on dental treatments far outweighs the cost of fluoridating the water supply. For every $1 invested in water fluoridation, most cities save $32 in fillings, root canals, and other cavity-related dental treatments.
Believe it or not, in 1995, a group of leading scientists went before Congress and reported that nationwide, annual savings resulting from fluoridated water totaled $3.84 billion every year.
Not surprisingly, the CDC recognizes water fluoridation as one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.
So, whether it’s in the form of toothpaste, mouthwash, water, salt, or milk, make sure you get your daily dose of fluoride!
Your One-Stop for Patient-Focused Dental Care in San Diego
There’s so much information out there these days it can be hard to keep track of the truth.
If you ever want to know about fluoride and how it helps fight tooth decay, or you have any oral health-related questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. At Dental Express, we’re always happy to arm you with the knowledge to improve your dental health.
We offer professional fluoride treatments at all six of our San Diego locations to strengthen your enamel and give you a healthy smile. Contact us today to set up an appointment or have your dental health questions answered.
Even if it’s just to learn about what makes a happy mouth, we’d love to hear from you!