The lowdown on how fluoride prevents tooth decay

Fluoride is essential for healthy teeth. But what is it, how do you get it, and can too much be dangerous?


If you’ve ever been to see our Notting Hill dental hygienist here at Number 18, they’ll likely have made sure you’re using fluoride toothpaste. That’s because fluoride can help prevent tooth decay.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral found in drinking water, toothpaste, varnishes and a variety of other forms. It helps protect teeth by binding itself to tooth enamel and replenishing a molecule (hydroxyl) found in one of the key compounds which make up the tooth structure called hydroxylapatite.

This process is referred to as remineralisation and is key to making the tooth more resistant to acid wear caused by bacteria which can then cause caries – or tooth decay.

How effective is fluoride?

There’s a lot of uncertainty about exactly how fluoride protects the teeth. However, research suggests it is most effective when applied directly to teeth.

A review found that the use of toothpaste containing 1000-1200ppm fluoride prevented 23% of the decayed, missing or filled surfaces of the tooth that would have occurred without use of the toothpaste.

Is there fluoride in my water?

Fluoride is naturally present to some degree in all drinking water but is added in some areas to help boost the amount to around 1mg per litre of water – the level thought to be effective against tooth decay. That’s just one more reason to drink plenty of tap water throughout the day!

Can fluoride be harmful?

There have been several studies carried out over the past 50 years into the benefits of fluoride for reducing instances of tooth decay and no evidence has been found to link fluoride in drinking water to any significant health risk.

It’s still important to consume only the recommended amount of fluoride, however. Dental fluorosis is one possible side effect experienced with excess topical fluoride use in children whose teeth are still developing. It can manifest itself as faint white lines or brown speckling on the teeth but our dentists will be able to spot if this is the case.

How much fluoride should I consume?

Using fluoride toothpaste twice a day (once just before bed) is essential to ensure your teeth have the protection they need to strengthen and repair. However, the dosage differs according to age, so always check the label as some natural or lesser-known toothpaste brands might not have the amount of fluoride you need – if any at all:

Children 3 and under need a smear of toothpaste containing 1000ppm fluoride twice a day

Children 3-6 need a pea-sized amount containing 1000ppm fluoride twice a day

Adults should cover the length of their toothbrush head with 1350-1500ppm fluoride twice a day

Are there other fluoride treatments I can use?

Fluoride is available in mouthwash and some kinds of dental floss. Use it throughout the day to rinse so that you don’t undo the hard work of your toothpaste.

Your dentist might also give you a high-dose fluoride varnish around twice a year. It should also be offered to children to help strengthen their enamel.

There are even fluoride tablets available on the market; however, only use these if recommended by your dentist as you don’t want to risk fluorosis. So long as you’re brushing and rinsing with fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash, plus drinking water throughout the day, you shouldn’t need anything else.

But if you want to boost your exposure naturally, fluoride can also be found in some foods, such as spinach, cucumber, carrots, black tea, jacket potatoes and tinned crab meat! And of course, the best way to get stronger teeth is to ensure you have a healthy diet and lifestyle.

To book an appointment with our dentist in Notting Hill, contact us today at Number 18 Dental.

 

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