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What Does Fluoride do for Your Teeth? A Dentist Explains


If there is any one “superhero” of the oral health field, it is the chemical compound known as fluoride.

Dentists have relied on the power of fluoride in preventing tooth decay for decades. Most people have heard the term “fluoride” all their lives, but many do not know exactly how this chemical can help promote healthy teeth and gums. But what does fluoride do for your teeth?

In this guide, we’ll share details about fluoride and its impressive track record in helping keep teeth healthy, as well as present alternatives that may help to avoid any potential drawbacks of using fluoride.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found around the world. In its natural form, it is an inorganic mineral salt with a slightly bitter taste and no odor. It is sourced from several minerals, including fluorite, and can be found in low concentrations in both fresh and saltwater sources.

Perhaps the most common use of fluoride is in municipal water supplies. Fluoride in the form of sodium fluoride is added to water to promote healthy tooth development in children. Children who do not get water from municipal sources, such as in areas where fluoride is not added or where water is pumped from wells, may exhibit higher levels of tooth decay and issues with tooth development. Fluoride is also commonly found in over-the-counter and prescription dental products, including mouth rinses, toothpastes, and topical treatments used in dental offices.

How Does Fluoride Work?

Fluoride promotes healthy teeth by allowing for remineralization of the teeth. Our teeth are comprised of several parts, including a hard outer layer called enamel. Sugars and acids from the foods and beverages we consume can attack this enamel layer, demineralizing it and eventually leading to cavities if not treated.

Fluoride, then, remineralizes the enamel layer. Through a chemical process, a mineral compound known as fluorapatite forms, which is especially resistant to acids. In simple terms, fluoride can help make teeth stronger, allowing them to fight off the effects of harmful bacteria that can cause cavities.

Are There Drawbacks to Using Fluoride?

In over-the-counter products like toothpaste and mouth rinses, fluoride concentration is considered very safe and is a crucial component of good oral health. Like nearly everything, however, too much fluoride can have several potentially harmful side effects.

High levels of fluoride in water supplies or in dental products can lead to a condition known as fluorosis, which is discoloration or staining of tooth surfaces. Fluoride may also accumulate in the brain, bones, and cartilage of people, especially those who have been exposed to higher-than-normal levels of the mineral. This can cause weakening of the bones in severe cases and may cause interruptions in healthy sleep cycles for certain individuals.

Extremely high levels of fluoride are suspected in the formation of certain cancers like osteosarcoma. Unfortunately, scientific research has been limited as to the correlation between fluoride and cancer.

What are Fluoride Alternatives?

Dentists have safely used fluoride to support great oral health for decades. In regular use, fluoride has been shown to be relatively safe and extremely effective in preventing tooth decay. In other words, fluoride does far more good than it does harm. Still, some patients may be concerned about the potentially harmful side effects of fluoride use.

Fresh water

One alternative to using fluoride preparations is by rinsing the mouth with fresh water directly after eating or drinking. This can flush out any particles or acids left in the mouth. Some people believe that practices like tongue scraping can also reduce the need for fluoride, as it helps to remove excess bacteria and food residues from the mouth.

Nano-hydroxyapatite toothpaste

Patients who need remineralization of tooth enamel typically use a dentist-applied topical fluoride paste. There is an alternative, however. Special toothpaste known as nano-hydroxyapatite toothpaste contains tiny particles of minerals that effectively bind to tooth enamel surfaces and strengthen them without the need for fluoride.

Direct Fluoride Alternatives

Finally, alternatives to traditional fluoride toothpaste can be used. These natural tooth cleaners include baking soda, charcoal, and turmeric. These natural tooth cleaners may not remineralize the teeth the way fluoride does, but do a good job of removing harmful bacteria and acids from tooth surfaces.

Dr. Cooke’s Fluoride Recommendation

A Raleigh Emergency Dentist, or your local dentist, should always be open to listening to patient concerns with fluoride and ask if there are any alternatives he or she could recommend.

It’s great to have questions such as “what does fluoride do for your teeth?” We love hearing it.

To summarize, fluoride is trusted by millions of dentists nationwide. Alternatives are available but are not as effective.