What are the benefits of fluoride?

August 13, 2015

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Fluoride: We've heard the term used in nearly every dentist appointment, we see the word etched onto most tubes of toothpastes and we constantly hear about it in dental news. While we've learned that fluoride can greatly aid in oral care, do we know what the benefits of this mineral actually are? Discover why fluoride is so vital for your dental health care plan:

Prevents tooth decay
Cavities, otherwise known as dental caries or tooth decay, are caused when the tooth's enamel is broken down. Bacteria already present on the teeth, usually in the form of plaque, react with foods, especially sugar and carbohydrates, to produce acid. The acid eats away at the enamel. This process happens over and over throughout the day, and if the mouth is not properly cleaned, these acid attacks can result in dental decay. In fact, cavities are the most common chronic disease for adolescents ages 6 to 19. Additionally nearly nine out of 10 adults experience some form of tooth decay in their lives.1

"Acid attacks can result in dental decay."

Fluoride from toothpaste and fluoridated water works with the minerals in saliva to repair the teeth. Essentially, fluoride rebuilds the enamel by replacing the minerals that get lost when acid forms in the mouth. It also prevents mineral loss in the tooth during these acid attacks because it reduces the ability of the mouth's bacteria to make acid.2

Aids in the development of teeth
Fluoride not only helps prevent tooth decay after teeth have grown in the mouth, but this mineral also aids in the development of teeth before they are even visible. The main source of fluoride for babies' pre-developed teeth is through fluoridated water. This enhanced tap water reduces cavities in baby teeth by 60 percent because the fluoride is incorporated into the enamel before they even break through the gums, which prepares them to be decay-resistant as soon as possible.

Helps combat habits contributing to poor dental health
Not only is fluoride essential for keeping an already well-taken-care-of mouth healthier, but it's especially beneficial to those who practice poor dental health habits or are affected by preventable oral conditions. For example, many seniors take multiple medications that can contribute to a side effect of dry mouth. Without the neutralizing effects of saliva, the mouth becomes more susceptible to dental decay. However, fluoride works to replace the essential work of saliva by reducing the impact of those acid attacks.

Water fluoridation is cost effective
Water fluoridation involves adding fluoride to public water supplies in an effort to promote oral health by simply drinking water. Though this mineral is naturally released from rocks into the soil and water, there's usually not enough of it to prevent tooth decay. Therefore, many state and local municipalities fluoridate their communities' supplies of water to an optimal level - an amount that would prevent tooth decay.

Drinking fluoridated water can improve your oral health.
Drinking fluoridated water can improve your oral health.

Since community water fluoridation was initiated 70 years ago, there has been a dramatic decline in tooth decay. While this health initiative comes at a price, the dental savings from improved oral health far outweigh the cost for upping the fluoride level in water supplies, regardless of the size or type of the community. One study revealed that the cost to treat dental caries for Medicare-eligible children in areas without water fluoridation was twice as high as that of non-eligible children living in fluoridated communities.3

The advancement of dental health saves money for families, the community and the health care system. In fact, water fluoridation savings range from an average of $15.95 per person in small communities to $18.62 per person in large communities.4

Knowing the power of fluoride can encourage you and others to take proper care of your mouth.

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1. "Hygiene-related diseases," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 16, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html

2. " The Tooth Decay Process: How to Reverse It and Avoid a Cavity," National Institutes of Health, May 2013.
http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm

3. "Water Fluoridation and Costs of Medicaid Treatment for Dental Decay—Louisiana, 1995–1996," MMWR, September 3, 1999. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4834a2.htm

4. "An Economic Evaluation of Community Water Fluoridation," Griffin SO, Jones K, Tomar SL. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, May 1, 2007. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1752-7325.2001.tb03370.x/pdf

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