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Facts About Fluoride (for Adults and Older Kids)

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Toothbrush with paste amount

Fluoride IS a Good Thing

We spoke about fluoride and young children in our previous Smile Blog originally posted September 29, 2015, Kids and Fluoride, but we wanted to revisit the topic to discuss how fluoride can be a huge benefit to mouths of all ages.  Originally designed to combat tooth decay, fluoride has LOTS of benefits when it comes to cavities.  Dentists recommend fluoride use in different applications to both treat and prevent decay.   For example, if you look at the ingredients list on your tube of toothpaste, fluoride is typically included.  Some of us may have even been instructed by our dentists to rinse with fluoride mouthwash growing up.  And dentists also use fluoride trays to help treat cavity-ridden teeth as an in-office procedure.

It’s All about Moderation

However, just like most other things in life, moderation is key.  Over-use of fluoride can cause fluorosis, or permanent tooth discoloration, or even more serious problems, especially for young kids who don’t understand to spit out their toothpaste rather than eat it.  Which is why many of these same tubes of toothpaste also contain a poison warning on it.  In fact, the FDA has required it since 1997 for every one containing fluoride that is sold in the U.S.  And according to fluorideallert.org, the risks from over-ingestion of fluoride include the potential for “stomach ailments, acute toxicity, skin rashes (perioral dermatitis), and impairment in glucose metabolism.”

This is why it is recommended to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush your teeth.  Most of us are probably guilty of being overgenerous in our applications.  It’s an innocent mistake, really.  If you watch toothpaste commercials or look at advertised images of a toothbrush with paste on it, rarely will you see a smear or pea-sized amount (as shown above on the image from dear doctor); rather, a huge swirly glob artistically placed on the bristles is the common image we are all accustomed to seeing.

“But I don’t want cavities,” you might say.  “What if I don’t use enough toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay?”

Other Sources of Fluoride

Luckily these days, we can realize the benefits of fluoride in other ways than just brushing our teeth.  As explained in our previous Smile Blog about Kids and Fluoride, we are also getting fluoride through our local water supply.  In fact, According to kidshealth.org, “as of 2012, CDC statistics show that more than 60% of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water through the taps in their homes,” whether it’s naturally occurring in their water or added at processing plants.  You can even check the Environmental Protection Agency’s database to find out what’s in your water.  The same website demonstrates that water fluoridation is actually estimated today to reduce tooth decay by “20%-40%.”  And it’s been doing so safely for over 60 years.  The American Dental Association even cites the CDC as naming it “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

Conclusion

Fluoride is a good thing as long as it’s used properly.  Like most other things that are good for you (nuts and fish oil, for example), it’s only the overuse of a good thing that could cause problems.  That’s why a lot of dentists these days recommend that children don’t begin using fluoride toothpaste until around age 6.  But this shouldn’t stop you from taking advantage of its benefits altogether.  After all, tooth decay is still the more serious issue and if our dentists trust fluoride to help minimize cavities, then so should we.  The important takeaway here is to be informed and to ask your dentist if you have any questions about this or any other mouth related topic.