There is a common myth that fluoride is bad for your teeth. In fact, the benefits of fluoride for your teeth are great and well documented.
After World War II, tooth decay was a public health issue in many countries. The attempts to solve the issue started with scientists discovering that water with fluoride indicated a reduction of tooth decay. Water fluoridation showed a tooth decay reduction amongst children of as much as 50 percent, without side effects. Other methods using fluoride, like fluoride tablets and toothpaste containing fluoride were tested as well. As a result of these tests, it is well documented that fluoride toothpaste is prevents caries and provides good oral health (1,2).
Tooth decay, also known as dental caries and or cavities, is the most common oral health issue. It is likely to occur on the chewing surface, along your gums, between your teeth or on the surface of the roots if they are exposed. Dental caries can occur on both milk teeth and permanent teeth. The likelihood of caries to occur varies from person to person and depends on the stage of life. One’s general health, medication usage, eating habits and dental hygiene are some of the factors that affect the likelihood of caries to develop.
Our teeth are made of four major tissues: dental pulp, cementum, dentine and enamel. Each of these tissues has a specific function. The enamel tissue functions as the protecting layer and consists mainly of hydroxyapatite, which gives teeth their rigorousness. If teeth are not cleaned properly a layer of plaque, built by spit, food and bacteria over time, will be formed on the teeth’s surface. The bacteria in the plaque can produce acids which are damaging the tooth enamel. Hence, this is one of the main reasons why caries develop. Caries starts out as a little dent in the enamel tissue. If no action is taken, the bacteria can develop a cavity by breaking through the enamel tissue and reaching the dentin.
Tooth decay is not necessarily something that is discovered at an early stage. Usually pain is not felt from having dental caries. Thus, it is rare to have an idea of the size of the cavity before a dentist discovers it and therefore it is recommended to visit the dentist on a regular basis. Normally, there is no pain until the cavity is close to a nerve and our tooth gets sensitive to sweet, hot or cold food and drinks.
Toothache is painful and can get worse if we get an inflammation in the enamel tissue. Such an inflammation can also turn into pulpitis, which is an inflammation in the dental pulp that can reach the roots of our teeth.
Every day our mouth goes through two naturally occurring processes, demineralization and remineralisation. For example, after eating, the pH value in our mouth drops below a critical point and the demineralisation process starts. During this process, minerals like calcium and phosphate are removed from the enamel tissue, initiating the dissolution of this tissue. Once the pH value in our mouth is back above the critical point, the remineralization process which the neutral saliva in our mouth naturally increases the pH value, takes over.
A good balance between the remineralization and demineralization processes will lead to a healthier and stronger enamel tissue. However, if the remineralization process cannot keep up with the demineralization process caries will form. The benefit of fluoride is that it favors remineralization and hence contributes to the prevention of caries (2).