Fluoride free toothpastes are popping up everywhere, and they wouldn’t be if people hadn’t expressed such an interest in them. The market goes where the money goes, and many consumers are looking to spend their hard earned cash on fluoride free toothpastes or toothpastes with fluoride alternatives.
If you’re not familiar with the great fluoride debate, you may not understand why people are making the choice to go fluoride free. It almost seems foolish. Almost every dentist seems to recommend fluoride. It’s a proven ingredient that prevents tooth decay. Who would want to go without it?
The answer to that question is rooted in something you may not know: you cannot and will not go without fluoride, even if it isn’t in your toothpaste. Toothpaste is merely an added source, and that’s why people are looking to switch up their oral health routines.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a derivative of a naturally occurring mineral, and it’s absolutely everywhere. Every body of water and patch of soil contains fluoride. Fluoride particles even float around in the air that we breathe. The majority of Americans have added fluoride in their tap water.
Your mouth uses fluoride to repair the enamel on your teeth. Fluoride combines with calcium and phosphorus to make tiny little crystals that fill the gaps in enamel, preventing cavities and strengthening the surface of the tooth.
Overall, fluoride sounds like a great thing. Dentists are eager to praise the benefits of fluoride, but many of them neglect to mention the consequences of fluoride or alternatives to the controversial ingredient.
1. Preventing Dental Problems in Childhood
If you have a child, you probably buy children’s toothpaste. Even if you don’t, you probably remember commercials for children’s toothpaste and the toothpaste you used when you were a kid. Most children’s toothpastes don’t contain fluoride, and the ingredient is omitted for a very good reason.
Your first set of teeth, your baby teeth, aren’t meant to stick around. Your permanent teeth are still hiding within your gums, waiting to erupt as you grow. When you consume fluoride before your permanent teeth erupt, your body looks for places to put it. Your permanent teeth are still an internal structure, and they begin to gather the excess of fluoride.
Many dentists argue that this is a good thing. Fluoride fortifying teeth that are already healthy means that the teeth will only be stronger when they break through the surface. They’ll be prepared to take on every manner of bacteria a little bit better. Sometimes, they’re fortified a bit too well.
Too much fluoride in childhood can result in a condition called dental fluorosis. In many people with dental fluorosis, the effect on their adult teeth is minimal and cosmetic. Significant dental fluorosis can leave dark stains and a rough texture behind, similar to the texture of an English muffin. When a tooth is covered in nooks and crannies, it’s a little more difficult to clean. In this scenario, fluoride has ultimately made the tooth worse.
It’s best for children to use fluoride free toothpaste until all or most of their adult teeth have emerged from the gums.
2. You’re Already Getting a Lot of Fluoride
Because fluoride exists in soil and groundwater, a percentage of it makes its way into everything we eat that grows from the ground. Coffee and tea in particular hold onto a lot of fluoride. We then brew them with tap water, raising the fluoride content even higher.
While small amounts of fluoride are generally recognized as safe, it’s not quite reasonable to say that the average person is only getting small amounts of fluoride. Its sources are abundant, and it finds its way into every food and drink we consume.
When we’re already getting so much of the stuff, concentrated fluoride in toothpaste might feel a little bit like overkill. We can’t escape it in all of its other forms. The toothpaste we choose is one of the only options we have to forgo the use of fluoride.
3. There are Plenty of Other Ways to Avoid Cavities
Modern America is a very advanced place. Almost everyone has access to a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss. These things aren’t expensive, and can sometimes be purchased for as little as a dollar a piece. School teaches children about the importance of oral hygiene, even if parents don’t do a thorough job. We’re raised to know that taking care of our teeth is important.
Fluoride is designed to undo damage to teeth. Wouldn’t it be great if damage to the teeth were prevented, rather than done and undone? Brushing your teeth twice a day with toothpaste of any sort, using mouthwash, and flossing before your nighttime brushing are excellent ways to avoid cavities. If the teeth are well cared for, problems would be a rarity.
Toothpastes with xylitol do a remarkably excellent job at helping to prevent cavities. Xylitol leaves behind a protective film on the teeth that bacteria cannot stick to, reducing the risk of acid erosion and other forms of tooth damage.
Removing added sugar from your diet also helps. The bacteria in your mouth love to eat sugar, and when they do, they expel a waste product rich in lactic acid. This acid sits and stews on the teeth, creating the beginnings of cavities that will only worsen with time.
Sugar also happens to be incredibly bad for your body. Added sugars in food or high quantities of fruit can lead to a buildup of fat around the pancreas, unstable blood sugar levels, diabetes, and obesity. Eating right is important for a large number of reasons - your dental health is only one of them.
4. Great Remineralizing Toothpastes are Readily Available
Fluoride is not the only ingredient your teeth can use to facilitate repair and fortify enamel. Any mixture of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and other helpful trace minerals will do the same job. They work even better if used in conjunction with plant derived ingredients like xylitol that help to restore the mouth to a non-acidic PH.
Brushing your teeth with minerals accessible to your enamel twice a day will help to replenish what was lost due to acidic foods or the accumulation of natural bacteria. This process can transpire without fluoride.
5. Avoiding a Rare But Serious Condition Called Skeletal Fluorosis
Fluoride is abundant in groundwater, and sometimes, groundwater is the only water that people have access to. In many developing countries, villages heavily rely on wells, streams, rivers, and lakes for the water they need. They drink, wash, and cook with water from natural sources. This water has a much higher fluoride content than normal American tap water, and negative effects are prevalent in individuals who consume too much of it.
Skeletal fluorosis is a condition that occurs when the body takes in too much fluoride. Just like dental fluorosis occurs when the adult teeth are still inside the gums, skeletal fluorosis occurs because your bones are inside your body. They’re connected to your soft tissue and constantly taking in all the nutrients you consume.
Fluoride is a mineral. It doesn’t have calories, it isn’t a nutrient, and you can’t burn it off. As your body gets it, it uses it. It will fortify bones, even if they don’t need to be fortified. It has nowhere else to store this surplus of fluoride. When the bones become too fortified, they actually become brittle. The soft tissue responsible for bone repair becomes overburdened by the hardening effect of fluoride. In severe cases, the effect spills out to the tendons and ligaments, making joints painful to move.
Once the fluoride is attached to your bones, there’s no real way to remove it. Sufferers are left in constant pain, and many of them rely on mobility aids like walking sticks.
You may be thinking that you aren’t susceptible to skeletal fluorosis because you only use filtered water or tap water with lesser amounts of fluoride. In most cases you would be correct. Although skeletal fluorosis is rare in developed countries, it can still happen in places like the United States.
People with liver or kidney ailments that impair their body’s ability to process minerals may be able to develop skeletal fluorosis from lesser amounts of fluoride. Some bodies simply utilize fluoride more efficiently than others, and most people don’t want to wait to find out if they’re one of the people who might become afflicted with skeletal fluorosis. It can take decades to reverse many of the painful and debilitating symptoms, and that’s a risk that may not be worth taking.
Choosing to use or avoid fluoride is almost a personal choice. Only almost because fluoride is in so many things that people don’t fully have the option to opt out of. Removing additional sources of fluoride in the products you use is an easy way to manage your fluoride intake if you’re concerned with the potential risks to your health.
Source 1 - tooth development in childhood
Source 2 - fluoride isn’t a nutrient
Source 3 - skeletal fluorosis US study