When it comes to the world of dental health, we talk about fluoride regularly. And although most parents know it’s good for their children’s teeth, they may not know why. When your child eats sugary foods, bacteria in their mouths produce acid that can eat away at the minerals on the surface of the teeth. This makes them weaker and increases the chances of developing cavities. Fluoride has been proven to protect teeth from this decay and can even help rebuild the tooth’s surface! This mineral is the best cavity fighter we have to help keep your whole family’s teeth healthy and strong.

Fluoride is most effective when it comes from both internal and external sources. It can be obtained in two forms: topical and systemic. Topical fluorides are applied directly to the tooth enamel through fluoride toothpastes, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatments in a dental office like Children’s Dental Center. Particularly for children who are at a moderate-to-high risk of developing cavities, the professional fluoride treatments our dentists provide may be recommended every three or six months. The fluoride in this treatment comes in a varnish and typically only takes a few moments to apply to the teeth. Your child may be asked not to eat or drink for at least 30 minutes afterward to allow their teeth to absorb the fluoride and help repair any microscopic areas of damage.

Systemic fluoride is ingested through sources like fluoridated water and dietary fluoride supplements. Water fluoridation provides frequent and consistent contact with low levels of fluoride. All water contains some fluoride, and some groundwater and natural springs can have naturally high levels. However, most water won’t have enough naturally occurring fluoride to prevent tooth decay. Many cities and counties will add and adjust the levels of fluoride found in their water in order to achieve the optimal preventative benefits. This community water fluoridation is the most cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to a large number of people and can reduce tooth decay by up to 25% in children and adults.

Along with a good oral hygiene routine and routine dental visits, fluoride can help keep your child’s teeth healthy and strong throughout their lives. But how did we come to discover its benefits? What led to including it in everyday items like toothpaste, or adding it to our water supplies? Let’s take a look at the history of fluoride to find out more!

Water drop and ripples

How fluoride ended up in our water supply

Like much of modern medicine, fluoride was stumbled upon by chance. In the early 1900’s, a dentist by the name of Frederick McKay noticed that almost 90% of the population of a particular Colorado town had mysterious brown staining on their teeth. He invited fellow dentist G.V. Black to collaborate with him on discovering the cause of this phenomenon. Through their research, they discovered that the staining was the result of imperfections in the development of the tooth enamel, what is now called fluorosis. They also found that individuals affected by this staining were surprisingly resistant to tooth decay.

Eventually, McKay was able to trace the source of this staining to the local water supply. Thanks to significant natural fluoride deposits across the Western US, the water in this particular Colorado town was especially rich in fluoride. However, it wasn’t until the 1940s that this knowledge was applied towards strengthening teeth. The Grand Rapids water fluoridation study was a project spanning fifteen years, during which researchers monitored the rate of tooth decay among almost 30,000 schoolchildren. After a decade, they found that the rate of cavities had decreased by 60% among Grand Rapids children who were born after water fluoridation began. Based on the success of this pilot study, many states made the decision to move forward with public water fluoridation programs, reducing the rates of tooth decay among their citizens, and improving their overall oral health. Water fluoridation is cost-efficient, even for small communities, and saves both families and the healthcare system money.

Due to the predominance of acid-producing bacteria caused by our modern diet, fluoride has become vital to shield the teeth against daily overuse. Currently, about 75% of the US population are served by community water systems that contain enough fluoride to protect their teeth. However, approximately 100 million Americans still lack access to water with fluoride. Because it has proven benefits, the United States has set a national goal for 80% of Americans to have water with enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay by 2020.

Topical application of fluoride

Water fluoridation programs are an incredibly important method of improving our dental health, but they are still an outcome of the original research done by McKay and his colleagues. More recently, researchers have discovered that the protective elements of fluoride are obtained from direct contact with the tooth enamel, toughening it and defending it against acid. The topical application of fluoride from oral rinses, toothpastes, and professional fluoride treatments has actually been shown to perform more efficiently than the systemic delivery of fluoride through treated water.

A word on fluorosis

Systemic delivery can produce some side effects at high doses, well above what you would find in public water supplies. Fluoride, like any mineral, can be bad for you if you consume too much. Typically, discolored patches and brown staining of the tooth enamel are the most common sign of too much fluoride consumption.

CDC doctor with a patient

Keeping your child’s smile strong and healthy with Children’s Dental Center

The benefits fluoride provides for children can’t be beat! This helps set them up for a strong, healthy smile throughout their life. For children ages 1-8, fluoride helps to strengthen the adult teeth that are developing under the gums. For older children, fluoride supports tooth enamel and can help rebuild it in certain cases. This leads to fewer and less severe cavities, less need for fillings and tooth removal, and less tooth decay in general.

When you schedule an appointment for your child at Children’s Dental Center, part of their appointment will be determining their specific fluoride needs and treating them accordingly. As a pediatric dental practice, our doctors know exactly what it takes to prevent dental issues wherever possible, and how to provide customized treatment when needed. Get in touch with us today and we’ll get your child on the road to a strong, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime!