Almost everyone concerned about the health of their teeth brushes regularly, but they may not know exactly why toothpaste performs the cleansing magic it does. They may not even know they also receive fluoride every day in their community’s drinking water.
There are various cleaning components in toothpaste and one of the primary ones is fluoride. The discovery of fluoride's cleaning abilities was a boon in preserving dental health. Toothpaste and tap water then became convenient fluoride delivery systems to aid in the fight against tooth decay.
The discovery of fluoride’s ability to keep our teeth healthy dates back to the early 20th century. A pair of dentists in Colorado discovered that people in the area had teeth unusually resistant to decay. This was due to the high degree of natural fluoride deposits in the area, which had found their way into the local drinking water. Fluoride became a regular part of toothpaste beginning in 1914.
In the 1940s, a multi-year study began with the goal of determining whether adding fluoride to drinking water made a notable difference for dental health. The results showed a 60-65% decrease in tooth decay in children born after the experiment began. As a result, a number of states in America began water fluoridation programs to improve their citizens’ oral health.
The enamel of your teeth is the natural coating that helps to protect them. When children’s teeth are first forming, fluoride combines with the enamel to help stave off decay during a time of life when teeth are particularly vulnerable to cavities. Fluoride remains valuable throughout the life of your teeth by helping protect them against the ravages of sugar and plaque.
As mentioned, almost everyone’s teeth come into regular contact with fluoride through exposure to drinking water and toothpaste. There are additional fluoride supplements in the form of drops or tablets, and it is also an ingredient in mouthwash. The degree of fluoride in the latter is quite high, so do not swallow it.
High doses of fluoride in water can be bad for you, but this would require ingesting a volume of water with fluoride going well beyond what the normal person drinks.
Excessive fluoride can cause conditions known as dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis. You can only come down with dental fluorosis as a child, as ingesting too much fluoride at a young age can lead to white spots appearing on your permanent teeth. Fortunately, degrees of this condition ranking above very mild are almost non-existent.
You can also acquire skeletal fluorosis by taking in too much fluoride. However, you would have to have a very high amount on a daily basis for a very long period. As with dental fluorosis, the odds of contracting this problem are extremely rare.
Government oversight helps to ensure the level of fluoride in drinking water does not exceed safe rates. In Ontario, municipalities follow the guidelines laid out in the Safe Drinking Water Act managed by the Ministry of the Environment.