Fluoride is an important component in dental health - so much so that it had been nicknamed 'nature's cavity fighter'. But what is fluoride exactly, why is it so beneficial for our teeth, and how can you ensure you're getting enough fluoride for your oral health?

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found throughout nature and in some food and in small amounts in most fresh-water sources.

Why do we need fluoride?

Fluoride plays an important role in both the growth of baby teeth in young children, and in the strengthening of adult teeth in grown-ups. When children's bones and teeth are in the development stage, fluoride helps to harden the enamel on both baby and adult teeth before they even emerge from the gums. For adults, fluoride plays a similar role, hardening the enamel on already-emerged teeth. The enamel is the outer layer of the tooth, and when it's strong and hard, it's much more effective at fighting off tooth decay. But when enamel is weak and eroded, it is more likely that tooth decay will set in. Fluoride hardens enamel because it takes part in the naturally occurring process of remineralisation in your mouth. This process happens when your saliva is less acidic (generally more than 30 minutes after eating or drinking), and replenishes the strengthening minerals (such as calcium and phosphorous) found in your teeth. If fluoride is present in your mouth when remineralisation kicks in, it helps to make the minerals deposited much harder, which both protects the teeth and helps to avoid demineralisation (when calcium and phosphorous dissolve after eating) during your next meal.

How do we get fluoride?

Fluoride can be found in some food sources such as fruits, vegetables and grains, but generally the levels found in edibles are so low that they should not be relied upon for good dental health. Instead, look for a toothpaste that contains fluoride. While most toothpastes include this ingredient, it's always important to double check that your purchases at the supermarket will properly support your dental health. Fortunately, approximately 95 per cent of toothpastes contain fluoride, and some mouthwashes will also offer extra fluoride to your dental hygiene regime. Another major source of fluoride in Australia is from tap water thanks to water fluoridation initiatives throughout the country.

Water fluoridation in Australia

Due to the widespread acceptance of fluoride as a highly beneficial health supplement by medical professionals and governments alike, many communities around the world benefit from water fluoridation. This is the practice of fluoride being added to the water supply so that every glass of tap water ups the drinker's fluoride intake. In 2007, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia stated that "fluoridation of drinking water is an effective way to ensure people across the community are exposed to fluoride and can benefit from its preventative role in tooth decay, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status." Therefore, a large portion of Australians have access to fluoride simply through their water supply. For example, 96 percent of those living in New South Wales have access to the supplement according to NSW Health. For those who are missing out, it's usually either because their local council does not take part in the initiative, or because they use their own water supply for drinking water, such as tanks or bores. If you're not sure if the water in your area is fluoridated, ask your local dentist or call your council.

How do you know if you're getting enough fluoride?

Generally speaking, simply using a toothpaste that contains fluoride and drinking fluoridated water is enough to sufficiently strengthen and protect your teeth. If you don't drink fluoridated water, your dentist will be able to advise you on the best ways to look after your teeth with fluoride through alternative methods such as tablets. However, these extra supplements are generally only given to children.

What is dental fluorosis?

Dental fluorisis is the only issue related to fluoride. It's a condition where discoloured or brown spots appear on the enamel of the teeth, and it's caused by too much fluoride at a young age. The changes may be so mild that only an experienced dental professional can spot the signs, or they can be obvious. Fortunately, all forms of dental fluorosis are only cosmetic and pose no real danger to your dental health. Generally, dental fluorosis only occurs when a child uses fluoride toothpaste and takes fluoride tablets when the water supply is already fluoridated. This is why it's so important to speak with your dentist about local fluoridation before supplying your child with these tablets. Fluorosis is permanent, but most of the time the discolouration is not overly noticeable or is on back teeth where it can't be seen. For cases of noticeable discolouration on front teeth, your dentist may be able to help with whitening or other cosmetic treatments.

For further information on fluroide or to make an appointment with Face Value Dental, call 3221 0677 or submit an online enquiry.