At safe levels, fluoride is proven to lower rates of tooth decay and tooth loss for all ages
3 minute read
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia for both adults and children, but it can be prevented in most cases by taking good care of your teeth. One of the most effective tools for protecting teeth from plaque (other than a toothbrush) is fluoride – a natural barrier against decay, cavities and tooth loss.
Fluoride has been widely used in toothpastes, other dental products and water supplies for more than half a century, and numerous studies have confirmed its beneficial effects, but there are still some who are concerned about its safety.
Read this guide from Kelmscott Dental to find out how fluoride works to protect your teeth and how to avoid possible risks. If you have questions about your dental health, get in touch with our team today.
What is fluoride?
One misconception about fluoride is that it’s a modern invention. In fact, fluoride is a naturally-occurring substance that forms when fluorine salts combine with minerals in the ground and in rocks.
Fluoride is naturally present in many crops and some water supplies at varying levels. Since the 1940s, fluoride has been added to other water supplies and products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes as a preventive measure to help lower rates of tooth decay and related problems in populations.
In fact, Australians born after 1970, when the majority of water fluoridation programs began in Australia, experience roughly half the rate of tooth decay compared to their parents’ generation.
How does fluoride protect teeth?
When bacteria in plaque feed on sugars in the mouth, they release acids that can soften and wear down the teeth over time, eventually leading to cavities and other damage. Fluoride helps to prevent decay by strengthening teeth enamel and making it more resistant to these acids, so fewer minerals will be dissolved. It may also help to stop bacteria from converting some sugar into acids.
If teeth are already affected by decay, fluoride may also help to restore some lost minerals in the early stages. This can help to slow down decay.
Is it effective?
Fluoride alone isn’t enough to stop tooth decay, but as part of a good oral hygiene routine, it can help to lower the risks of dental problems for all age groups. A 2015 review of studies found that water fluoridation can reduce rates of tooth decay in children by 35% for baby teeth and 26% for permanent teeth compared to those living in non-fluoridated areas.
Fluoride is most effective at protecting teeth when safe levels are maintained in the mouth through regular drinking of fluoridated water throughout the day and twice-daily toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends water fluoridation or providing alternative sources of fluoride as a public health measure.
Is fluoride safe?
Fluoride is safe when it’s used at recommended levels. In water supplies, the safe range is between 0.6 and 1.1 mg/L for everyday use. Concentrations of fluoride are higher in toothpastes and mouth rinses that aren’t intended for ingestion.
Despite some claims to the contrary, there is no convincing evidence linking fluoride with serious health problems, but exposure to too much fluoride while the teeth are still growing can cause children to develop a cosmetic condition known as dental fluorosis. This may result in white lines or flecks appearing on teeth surfaces, or other discolouration and pitting of the enamel in more severe cases.
Fluorosis is rare, however, and is most common in areas that have naturally high levels of fluoride in water, which is typically reduced to safe levels by local authorities. Children can avoid fluorosis by learning not to swallow toothpaste and using children’s toothpaste or a smaller amount of adult toothpaste until around the age of 7.
How can I get enough fluoride?
Fluoride is naturally present in some foods, but not at levels that will help protect your teeth. If you want to improve your oral health, your dentist may recommend increasing your fluoride intake by drinking more fluoridated water, changing your toothpaste or using other dental products.
Most toothpastes contain fluoride, but the level can vary. For the most effective protection from decay, dentists recommend choosing a toothpaste with a higher concentration of fluoride between 1,350 and 1,500 parts per million (ppm), or over 1,000 ppm for children aged 3–7. This information can be found on the packaging.
For effective brushing, teeth should be brushed in a circular motion at least twice a day and it should take around 2 minutes, taking time to clean all biting surfaces and where teeth meet the gumline. Not rinsing your mouth after spitting out toothpaste can help fluoride to remain on your teeth and provide protection for longer.
Fluoride has been added to local water supplies in Australia since 1953, and today most Australians have access to fluoridated tap water. Some bottled water may also contain fluoride, depending on its source.
Water is the best drink to help you stay hydrated and to help keep your mouth fresh and clean. It’s generally recommended to drink about 2–2.5 litres of water per day for adults, and between 1-2 litres of water per day for children depending on their age group.
Dental hygiene visits
In addition to a daily oral hygiene care, it’s also important to keep up with your scheduled dental visits for a check-up and oral hygiene treatments. This may involve a professional scale and clean to remove plaque and hardened calculus from teeth surfaces as well as applying fluoride to help protect the teeth.
At Kelmscott Dental, we recommend that most people see our dentists and hygienists twice a year, though this will depend on your individual needs and risks.
Fluoride mouth rinse
If you need some help improving your oral hygiene, your dentist may recommend a prescription mouth rinse containing fluoride. This should be used following your dentist’s instructions in addition to regular tooth brushing.
Talk to a dentist in Kelmscott
If it’s been longer than 6 months since you last visited the dentist, or you want to see a professional about any aspect of your oral health, book a consultation with our experienced dentists at Kelmscott Dental today.
Call us on (08) 9495 7999 or book online. We also welcome patients from Armadale, Gosnells and other nearby suburbs.
- Iheozor-Ejiofor Z, Worthington HV, Walsh T, O’Malley L, Clarkson JE, Macey R, Alam R, Tugwell P, Welch V, Glenny A. Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental caries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD010856. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010856.pub2
- Jack, B., Ayson, M., Lewis, S., Irving, A., Agresta, B., Ko, H., Stoklosa, A. 2016, Health Effects of Water Fluoridation: Evidence Evaluation Report, report to the National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra.