It’s very likely that you’ve heard all the good a little fluoride can do for your teeth. But how exactly does that magical little element do all it does?
How Fluoride Works Throughout Your Life
Fluoride is an anion of fluorine. It is commonly added to toothpastes, dental rinses and in many countries, including the United States, has been added to the public water supply. It has been recognized by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. All because it is the number one tool in fighting cavities and tooth decay. How fluoride does this depends on when in a person’s life it is encountered.
Scientists have found that prior age 7 or 8 enamel is still being calcified and formed. Ingesting fluoride during this time can alter how the enamel is formed, rendering it stronger and more resistant to the erosion caused by acids in the mouth.
You’ve probably heard that once lost enamel is gone forever. This is essentially true, but fluoride has been proven to do a lot by way of healing enamel. It works like this: Two common processes are constantly occurring inside of our mouth. Demineralization is the dissolving of calcium and phosphate minerals (that enamel is made up of) out of the enamel and into the plaque that sits on your teeth. Plaque has a lot of acid in it. Once the plaque has neutralized the minerals that dissolved into it can return to the surface of the enamel in a process called remineralization. This back and forth of minerals is completely natural and helps to protect your teeth. However, sometimes the acid (as a result of sugars and bacterias) takes longer to neutralize or your mouth is exposed to new acids immediately following neutralization. In these cases the minerals don’t return to the enamel and the enamel is slowly worn down. The second way that fluoride helps protect your teeth is by encouraging remineralization and improves the quality of the new minerals that are absorbed by the enamel. Low levels of fluoride mixed with the saliva in your mouth can help heal enamel in this way and also prevent damage by future acid attacks. This is why a fluoride component in your water/toothpaste is important even after the stage of enamel formation!
Fluoride also works to prevent plaque and bacteria from producing more acid. It works by inhibiting some of the enzymes found in plaque and bacteria from producing the acid they would if there weren’t a low amount of fluoride in your mouth.
The last thing fluoride can do for you is if ingested as a child, it can help keep the grooves of your teeth’s biting surfaces shallower than they would be without it. How do shallow teeth grooves prevent oral health issues? Shallower tooth fissures are easier to clean and don’t attract plaque and bacteria as much as deeper fissures do.
Don’t all these benefits sound great? Can you almost imagine how wonderful you’ll feel with the improved oral health that they’ll bring? Fluoride is the answer! Talk to your dentist about incorporating fluoride into your oral hygiene routine or check with your water provider about the levels of fluoride that occur in your supply.