We know it as an ingredient in toothpastes, but what is fluoride, and why is it good for our teeth?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is present in your bones and teeth, as well as being found naturally in soil, water, plants, rocks, and even air. Because fluoride can bond with the calcium and phosphates in your tooth enamel, it is considered to be very beneficial for oral health and is commonly added to toothpastes and drinking water, with the aim of strengthening and protecting our teeth. Let’s take a more detailed look at how fluoride works:
Understanding tooth enamel and enamel wearing.
To understand why fluoride is useful to your teeth, first you need to understand tooth enamel. Your teeth are covered by a semi-translucent layer called enamel, which is made up of various different minerals. Learn more about tooth structure here. While enamel is inherently very strong, it can be worn down over time, and because enamel is not a living tissue, it doesn’t grow back.
Tooth enamel can be worn down by abrasion from grinding your teeth, which can also cause pain in and issues with your temporomandibular joint. Learn more about this here. However, the most common reason for breakdown of enamel is acidity from foods or drinks. There are the obvious culprits like carbonated soft drinks, but fruit juices, lemon juice, and sugary, sticky, or starchy foods all convert to acid in your mouth and can be harmful to your tooth enamel. Many over-the-counter tooth whitening products are also highly acidic. Learn more about how diet affects your dental health here, and read all about safe tooth whitening right here.
How does fluoride benefit tooth enamel?
While tooth enamel cannot be regrown, it can be remineralized. Acid draws minerals like calcium and phosphates out of tooth enamel; fluoride, on the other hand, bonds with calcium and phosphates to create fluorapatite, a structure much stronger than these minerals themselves. This strengthens teeth and means significantly less risk of dental decay, which in turn means less chance of issues like cavities and gum disease.
How to prevent enamel wearing.
While fluoride can be helpful, the best defense is always a good offense! There are some simple things you can do to prevent acid from damaging your tooth enamel. If you’re going to indulge in acidic or sweet beverages, use a straw (be mindful of the environment and make it a reusable straw!). Drink lots of water, particularly during and after consuming potentially damaging food or drinks. Avoid brushing your teeth for about 30 minutes, though; acid actually softens your tooth enamel a little bit immediately after contact, which means brushing will be slightly abrasive and potentially harmful. Chewing gum can stimulate saliva flow, and gums containing xylitol can actually counteract the effects of acid! More about that here.
Always talk to your dentist about tooth whitening before you try any over-the-counter products, including whitening toothpastes.
Learn more about fluoride and protecting your tooth enamel.
You can read more about the benefits of fluoride, fluoride supplements for children, and safe fluoride usage here, and don’t forget that our dentists are a great source of information too! If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.