Fluoride has been raising some questions lately. Should tap water be fluoridated? How much fluoride is too much? According to the American Dental Association (ADA), this naturally found mineral can prevent cavities by at least 25% in both children and adults and even repair teeth in the early stages of tooth decay. While tap water is your first line of defence, if your tap water doesn't have added fluoride, talk to your dentist to find out how you'd benefit from other sources.
Fluoride in tap water
According to the ADA, widespread water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.
The ADA supports the fluoridation of community water based on over 70 years of research, which has proven an optimal level of fluoride in community water is safe and effective. They discredit claims against fluoridation as "pseudo-scientific literature". Instead, they recommend that all community water contain the optimal amount of 0.7 ppm (part per million) of fluoride. This amount of fluoride translates to an optimal amount for the prevention of tooth decay.
You can check the level of fluoride in your tap water by contacting your local water supplier. If your water comes from a well, you will need to have it professionally tested. If your water contains less than one ppm of fluoride, discuss your options with your dentist.
Finding ways to make sure you are getting the amount of fluoride you need in your drinking water, or supplementing your fluoride, is easy as there are several alternative sources.
Using fluoride toothpaste
Using a fluoride toothpaste is the best and most popular way to keep your teeth healthy. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste or use other items such as mouthwash or topical gels that include fluoride in the ingredient list. Remember to use a soft-bristled toothbrush to keep your enamel safe from physical abrasion; hard bristles can be harmful over time. Fluoride mouth rinses also can help children with a history of cavities or a high risk of tooth decay. For children aged two to six years, parental supervision will ensure they only use a pea-sized amount and do not swallow their toothpaste. Babies with teeth only need a small smear no bigger than a grain of rice.
Dental practice treatments
If you are at risk of tooth decay or aren't getting enough fluoride in your drinking water, your dentist may recommend fluoride treatments at their practice. With these types of treatments, your dentist or dental hygienist will use one of several fluoride treatment options to help strengthen your enamel:
- Foam applied into a soft tray that the patient bites into for several minutes
- Fluoride rinse that the patient swishes for several minutes
- Fluoride varnish that the dental hygienist applies directly to the teeth
After the treatment, you may be asked not to rinse, eat or drink for at least 30 minutes to allow the teeth to absorb the fluoride.
At-home fluoride treatments
At-home fluoride treatments are available for people with a high risk of cavities, such as those with dry mouth or who are receiving radiation treatments. If your dentist does determine that you can benefit from these applications, they will give you a prescription fluoride gel to apply on your own.
With the onset of bottled water, more and more people aren't getting the recommended amount of fluoride. Most bottled water brands don't contain fluoride. If you drink mostly bottled water, you may be missing out on this vital mineral. You should also check with your dental professional to see if they recommend a fluoride treatment or supplement.
Several factors affect whether or not you're getting enough fluoride, including:
- The fluoride level in your bottled water, which can vary significantly by brand. If the fluoride content does not appear on the label, contact the company and ask.
- The amount of bottled water you drink during the day
- Whether you use bottled water for drinking, cooking or reconstituting soups, juices, and other drinks
- Whether you also drink fluoridated water at school, work or elsewhere
Fluoride supplements come in the form of lozenges, tablets or liquids and can be purchased at most chemists or online with a prescription from your dental professional. It is recommended that you discuss any use of over-the-counter fluoride supplements with your dentist to determine whether you or a family member will benefit from a fluoride supplement for use at home.
Whether it be through your tap water, bottled water, toothpaste, or supplemental treatments, it is important to be aware if you are getting enough fluoride to meet ADA recommendations and protect your teeth.