We’ve all heard about fluoride, but you probably don’t know about demineralisation and remineralisation. Every day, the bacteria in your mouth produce acids which form plaque that erodes important minerals from your mouth. These lost minerals include fluoride and calcium, phosphates, and calcium. This makes us think oral bacteria are bad, but Dr. Steven Lin has a different take.
The famed dentist and author says bacteria is meant to prevent tooth decay. That’s why it exists in our mouths. The acid they produce is intended to kill off harmful germs. However, when we eat the wrong foods, our mouths become too acidic, which is where the problem starts. Eating the right foods will balance out our oral pH, making sure there’s just enough acid to stop or teeth from rotting and preserve important mineral salts.
Until then, we need to restore those minerals that wore away with our enamel. This process is called remineralisation. Those same bacteria extract the relevant minerals from our food and drink, re-depositing them on the surface of our teeth and restoring our enamel. If these teeth surfaces are not sufficiently reinforced, they can reveal our dentins and eventually our nerve systems, causing vulnerability, infection, and intense pain.
Over the years, dentists have discovered that fluoride plays an important role in keeping our teeth healthy and preventing tooth decay. It coats the teeth, making them less susceptible to plaque attacks. If kids gets lots if fluoride and take good care of their milk teeth, results can be permanent. When their baby teeth fall out and their adult teeth begin to erupt, this fluoride fuses to the teeth, minimising future cases of decay.
Apart from food sources and fluoridated toothpaste, dental gels, varnishes, and foams, the best way to consume fluoride is by adding it to our drinking water. The idea of adding fluoride to water dates back to dentists Frederick McKay and A.V Black. In 1909, they noticed that residents of a certain area of Colorado seemed to have less dental carries.
They traced these healthy teeth to naturally occurring fluoride in the area’s water supply, so they studied the region for 15 years and concluded that adding fluoride to water could replicate the results in other places. In the US, fluoride was first added to public water in 1945, and Australia followed suit in 1953, beginning the project in Beaconsfiled, Tasmania.
Our nation’s National Oral Health Plans for 2015 to 2024 include 90% pervasiveness of fluoride in the national water supply. The NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council) recommends 0.6mg to 1.1mg of fluoride per litre of water. Other organisations that endorse fluoridation include the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Australia Dental Association (ADA), and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
Unfortunately, too much fluoride can be a problem. While fluoride in kids below six can set them up for a lifetime of few to no cavities, it can also set them up for a lifetime of permanently stained teeth. In regions where fluoride occurs in water naturally, the levels aren’t controlled. Kids who were born and grew up in these places are easily identified by the dark brown striations on their teeth that last well into adulthood.
This condition is called fluorosis. In extreme cases, the teeth continue to erode even after they have stopped consuming over-fluoridated water. They may need special toothpastes that neutralise this ongoing erosion. If your kids are using fluoridated toothpaste, train them to use very small amounts, no more than a pea-sized portion every time they brush.
A quick tip is to avoid flavoured toothpaste (or at least offer toothpaste with sharp flavour). This will discourage your kids from swallowing their toothpaste. If you treat your own water at home, remember that steaming will extract all your naturally occurring fluoride, while reverse osmosis will destroy between 65% and 95%. Carbon and charcoal filters are safer, though check for activation levels, since activated charcoal gets rid of 85% fluoride.
Some naysayers are trying to derail the fluoridation project in Australia. They often cite an inconclusive study that associated low IQ in Chinese kids with fluoridated water. The study was released in 2012 and is often misquoted and sensationalised. The ADA believes the best way to ensure universal fluoridation is to transfer it into the hands of local governments.
The argument is that local authorities have more grassroots access and better rapport with residents, so they are better placed to implement these plans and persuade citizens to comply. The national government is empowered to issue decrees but has no effective, practical, or realistic route for enforcement and application.