Fluoride is an ion that has proven to be very effective at keeping our smiles looking as good as they can for as long as they can. In the early 1900’s, a group of children were discovered in Colorado that had brown teeth. Their dentist also noticed that these stained teeth were very resistant to tooth decay.
After a lot of research, it was discovered that the mysterious element behind their ugly, cavity-resistant teeth was the fluoride ion.
The Three Ways Fluoride Protects Your Teeth
1. Fluoride incorporates itself into our teeth everyday through remineralization.
This is the most important way that fluoride protects our teeth!
When you eat a meal, you’re not just feeding yourself, you’re feeding thousands of bacteria inside of your mouth. After they’re done eating, they excrete acid which slowly dissolves your teeth (See my post entitled What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque for more on this.)
Luckily, our saliva has a neutralizing action on this acid. After our saliva has neutralized the acid, it goes to work building back our enamel. If you have fluoride available in your saliva, then your teeth an be repaired with fluorapatite instead of hydroxyapatite. This means that the next time you eat, your teeth will be much more resistant to the acid that the plaque in your mouth is producing. So, even if you didn’t have fluoridated water when you were little (I didn’t), you can still get the benefits of fluoride in your mouth everyday when your enamel remineralizes after a meal!
2. Fluoride helps children up to age 7 while their permanent teeth develop. Fluoride ingested at a young age can help alter the structure of the tooth enamel to make it stronger. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and it coats the visible surface of all the teeth in our mouth. Enamel is made up of tiny crystals called hydroxyapatite. When fluoride is available during tooth development, it incorporates itself into the enamel structure to create fluorapatite. Fluorapatite is much more resistant to the acid that dental plaque produces. You can think of it as a strong shield that your body has in the fight against tooth decay.
3. Fluoride can decrease the acid production of plaque — you can think of it as a poison for plaque. Fluoride is able to inhibit some of the enzymes that the bacteria use to create acid. Although it doesn’t completely stop the production of acid, it is able to put a big dent in its acid production. This is a major factor in the reduction of tooth decay. Just imagine, if the bacteria in your mouth can’t produce as much of the acid that destroys your teeth, then your teeth will remain stronger and healthier.
While fluoride can drastically improve the lifespan of your teeth, it can’t do it all. For example, if you get the daily recommended amount of fluoride but aren’t removing the plaque from your teeth, eventually the plaque will build up a big enough barrier than the fluoride can’t make it to the tooth surface. So even if you’re getting an optimal amount of fluoride in your diet it is still important to brush and floss daily.
If you have any questions about fluoride, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!