Sat, May 4, 2013
Enamel, the outer layer of the crown of a tooth, is made of closely packed mineral crystals. Every day, minerals are lost and gained from inside the enamel crystals. Losing minerals is called demineralization. Gaining them back is called remineralization.
Cavities used to be a fact of life. But over the past few decades, tooth decay has been reduced dramatically. The key reason: fluoride. Research has shown that fluoride reduces cavities in both children and adults. It also helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay becomes visible. Unfortunately, many people continue to be misinformed about fluoride and fluoridation. Fluoride is like any other nutrient; it is safe and effective when used appropriately. This article will help you learn more about the important oral health benefits of fluoride.
Fluoride supplements (drops, tablets, and lozenges) were introduced in the 1950s as a substitute for fluoridated water for children living in unfluoridated communities. Unlike dietary supplements, fluoride supplements cannot be purchased over the counter, but require a prescription from a dentist or a doctor. Further, unlike most other prescription drugs, however, fluoride supplements have never been approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite fifty years and countless prescriptions to millions of children, the FDA still considers fluoride supplements to be “unapproved new drugs.”
Demineralization begins with the bacteria in the plaque on your teeth. They feed on sugar and other carbohydrates in your mouth and produce acids. The acids dissolve crystals in tooth enamel. The loss of enamel is balanced by remineralization. In this process, minerals in the saliva, such as fluoride, calcium and phosphate, are deposited back into the enamel. Too much loss of minerals without enough replacement leads to tooth decay.
Fluoride helps teeth in two ways. When children eat or drink fluoride in small doses, it enters the bloodstream and becomes part of their developing permanent teeth. Swallowed fluorides also become part of the saliva and strengthen teeth from the outside. Acids are less able to damage tooth enamel strengthened by fluoride.
In addition, people apply fluoride directly to their teeth when they use a fluoride toothpaste or rinse. Both children and adults also can receive fluoride treatments from the dentist. Fluoride applied to the outside of the teeth helps to speed remineralization. Fluoride treatments, applied in the dental office, also are strong enough to disrupt the production of acids by bacteria.
Fluoride prevents the acid produced by the bacteria in plaque from dissolving, or demineralizing, tooth enamel, the hard and shiny substance that protects the teeth. Fluoride also allows teeth damaged by acid to repair, or remineralize, themselves. Fluoride cannot repair cavities, but it can reverse low levels of tooth decay and thus prevent new cavities from forming.
Despite the good news about dental health, tooth decay remains one of the most common diseases of childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- more than 25% of 2- to 5-year-olds have one or more cavities
- half of kids 12 to 15 years old have one or more cavities
- tooth decay affects two thirds of 16- to 19-year-olds