For decades, it’s been the dental credo that fluoride is an essential part of preventing cavities and building stronger teeth. But when it comes to our overall health, its status remains less clear. Water fluoridation remains a heated topic of debate.
While medical establishments urge people to educate themselves about the benefits of fluoride, others are more wary. Some vocal groups argue that even if fluoride has helpful properties, the dangers of it are too risky for a beautiful smile. We’ll take a closer look at the controversy surrounding this substance.
So what is fluoride?
Believe it or not, it’s a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in the food we eat and the water we drink. However, the natural fluoride level for these things can vary greatly, and thus why people are debating whether adding fluoride to drinking water is safe.
There’s solid evidence that shows fluoride is beneficial for your teeth. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that fluoridated water reduces tooth decay over a person's lifetime by 25 percent. A study in the Journal of Dental Research also supports these claims. The researchers analyzed data from almost 3800 adults who participated in the 2004 to 2006 Australian National Survey of Adult Oral Health. Based on their results, they found subjects who lived in communities with fluoridated water had significantly less tooth decay – up to 30 percent less – when compared to subjects who lived in unfluoridated communities.
But that’s not the whole story. While fluoride helps fight tooth decay, ingesting extreme amounts of it can be dangerous. Young children can also develop fluoride toxicity by ingesting large amounts of fluoride. In fact, getting too much fluoride can increase the risk of fluorosis – a condition that stains the teeth.
But don’t be alarmed – you would have to drink 5,000 to 10,000 glasses of fluoridated water in one sitting to reach unsafe levels. Basically any substance can be considered toxic if over consumed. A great example is alcohol. In small quantities, it’s been shown to have health benefits, like reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. But if you’re taking 10 shots of vodka in 30 minutes, you’re going to find its pretty lethal stuff.
Like any substance, it’s the dose that makes the difference. Fluoride in small amounts has been shown to be effective in preventing cavities and tooth decay. People of all ages can benefit their oral health by exposing their gums and teeth to fluoride. Fluoride helps to rebuild your tooth enamel which can be worn-down from acidic bacteria by the foods we eat. Fluoride also makes it more difficult for plaque to stick to your teeth.
The easiest way to get fluoride is by simply drinking water. Health Canada monitors safety levels and has deemed drinking water in Canada among the safest in the world. You can also use fluoridated toothpaste, mouthwash or oral supplements. These few fluoride sources are more than enough to keep your decay at bay.
In the end, you shouldn’t be worried about fluoride. In fact, the fluoridation of drinking water is one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. So sit back and enjoy that refreshing glass of water. Your teeth will thank you for it.