An increasing number of people are looking to avoid fluoride toothpastes. If you’ve seen a lot of new fluoride free products hit the shelves and heard people talking about going fluoride free, you probably want to know what the deal is. Dentists recommend fluoride, so why is everyone suddenly saying that it’s bad for you?
The answer is somewhat complicated. Fluoride isn’t necessarily bad for your teeth most of the time. Sometimes, it completely ruins your teeth. To say the least, fluoride is an extremely complicated ingredient. When it comes to fluoride, the biggest questions are when to use it, how to use it, and how much fluoride you should be using.
Don’t write fluoride off immediately. Learn a little more about it before you make a decision to keep or ditch this controversial ingredient in your toothpaste. Some people decide the benefits outweigh the risks. Others don’t want to take the chance.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a derivative of fluorine, a naturally occurring element in almost everything on the entire planet. It is the thirteenth most common element in the earth’s crust, so abundant that a small amount of it naturally circulates in the air. Fluorine is a completely organic compound that hardens things around it, turning soil into boulders and fortifying plants. It also exists in the teeth and bones of most living things.
Why is Fluoride in So Many Things?
Fluoride is in all kinds of plants, animals, rocks, and natural bodies of water because it is so prevalent in the dirt. Everything on the planet will, in some way, obtain nutrients from the dirt. Plants grow from the soil, pulling up water and nutrients from the ground. Fluoride is naturally present in that soil.
Plants will absorb it and a small amount of it will remain in the fruit, vegetable, or herb those plants produce. Some plants, like tea leaves or coffee plants, retain more fluoride than others. Herbivores and omnivores eat the resulting crop, and thereby ingest the trace amounts of fluoride.
Fluoride is also added to the public water supply. If you drink or cook with tap water, you’re adding more fluoride to your diet. Coffee brewed with tap water will have more fluoride than coffee brewed without it. Dry pasta becomes fluoridated when you boil in tap water. The fruits, herbs, and vegetables you grow in your garden will have an even higher concentration of fluoride if you water them with water from the public supply.
Fluoride’s presence in most of the things we use a wealth of in our everyday lives means that fluoride gets into almost everything. It’s almost impossible to live an entire day without coming into contact without at least a small amount of fluoride.
What Does Fluoride Do For Your Teeth?
Your teeth are made of a lot of things, but the two most important components of your teeth are calcium and phosphate. Calcium is the building block for healthy bones and teeth, and phosphate helps calcium do its job. They work together to repair and remineralize our teeth and bones.
Fluoride attaches itself to calcium and phosphate, creating a material known as fluorapatite. Fluorapatite can occur in the wild, producing beautiful, colorful, highly reflective crystals that are light pink, deep teal, or a bright vibrant blue violet color. Like all crystal, fluorapatite is a strong, hard, durable substance.
When you use fluoride on your teeth, it’s bonding with smaller quantities of microscoping particles, creating very small translucent crystals. The fluorapatite produced will stick to your teeth, filling in the potential beginnings of cavities and hardening tooth enamel.
This bonding process works best when the mouth is at its ideal PH level, which is somewhere close to 7. At a PH of 7, the mouth is less acidic and unlikely to work against the formation of bonds between the fluoride, calcium, and phosphorous present in your saliva. This is what makes fluoride most effective when used on clean teeth. The addition of fluoride to toothpaste leaves residual fluoride in the saliva, allowing it to work uninterrupted to repair enamel while you sleep.
Is Fluoride Safe?
Fluoride in small amounts is generally regarded as safe. It’s proven to work to protect teeth and reduce dental cavities. The key to keeping fluoride safe is using it in moderation. Like with almost anything you use or ingest, there is such thing as too much fluoride. Even though it’s generally beneficial for you, overconsumption or overuse of fluoride can cause certain medical conditions that may affect your teeth.
What is Dental Fluorosis?
Dental fluorosis is a condition that causes changes in the way tooth enamel appears. It typically occurs in children. Children are often introduced to fluoride after their first set of teeth, sometimes called their “baby teeth”, grow in. While learning to brush with fluoridated toothpaste, children often swallow significant amounts of toothpaste. It’s particularly easy for children to swallow toothpaste if it tastes good.
When children are exposed to fluoride before their adult teeth fully emerge from their gums, their teeth are fortified before they’re ever exposed to food or drink. The end result is intended to be stronger teeth from the very beginning, and fortified teeth that are well taken care of should ideally last well into adulthood before any issues related to tooth erosion or weakened enamel present themselves.
The overconsumption of fluoride can lead to adult teeth that are stained from the outset. This stain is sometimes a slight yellow, but in severe cases, it may appear to be a brown hue similar to the color of caramel. In some very severe cases, dental fluorosis may change the texture of the teeth to create small peaks and valleys as a result of excessive fluoride deposit buildup.
Product manufacturers have taken steps to reduce the chances that children will develop dental fluorosis. Most children’s toothpastes, sometimes called training toothpastes, do not contain fluoride. If the child were to swallow some of that toothpaste, they would therefore not be exposed to fluoride. It’s best to avoid providing children with fluoridated toothpastes until they are sure of their ability to brush their teeth without inadvertently swallowing the resulting lather.
You may also see special bottled water in the grocery store, often with a picture of a baby on the label. This water has been treated to remove nearly all fluoride that might be present. This water should be used to mix baby formulas or dilute juices for toddlers, as it will not contribute unnecessary fluoride to the child’s diet.
Adults who did not have dental fluorosis when their second set of teeth fully emerged cannot develop dental fluorosis later on, although they may spend the rest of their lives with the side effects of the condition. The side effects are mostly cosmetic and can be remedied through cosmetic dental treatments, which are usually costly and can sometimes be as extensive as veneers or crowns.
What is Skeletal Fluorosis?
Skeletal fluorosis is a fluoride related illness that can happen to anyone at any age. Skeletal fluorosis is the direct result of prolonged ingestion of high quantities of fluoride. This condition is most common in countries where well water or groundwater are the primary sources of water for cooking, drinking, and washing.
When fluoride enters the body, the body uses it. It doesn’t have calories and it can’t be burned for energy. Instead, it finds a place to go. Fluoride that has been swallowed cannot be utilized by the teeth, as they can only take in fluoride from the surface. Ingested fluoride goes directly to the bones, looking for things to repair.
If there’s nothing to repair, the fluoride simply accumulates.This can lead to an overgrowth of fluoride on the bones that can sometimes calcify tendons. The condition can be painful, and sufferers often require canes or walking sticks to help offload the weight from their stiffened joints.
When Is It Safe to Use Fluoride?
Fluoride is best for adults. Although it can and will fortify a child’s developing adult teeth, there’s no way to know if the child received too much fluoride until the adult teeth have fully emerged and it’s already too late. Always provide toddlers and young children with fluoride free toothpaste, at least until you’re sure they understand how to properly brush their teeth.
Fluoride is only bad for your teeth in early childhood. Excessive amounts are bad for your skeleton all the time. Although the risk is low that serious fluoride related illnesses will ever occur for people living in developed countries, many people choose to avoid fluoride entirely.
Natural remineralizing toothpastes uses compounds derived from calcium rich sources like sea coral to help the teeth repair themselves without the use of fluoride. If you would prefer to eliminate fluoride from your dental health routine, simply replace your current toothpaste with a remineralizing toothpaste. You’ll still be getting fluoride from plenty of other sources that you likely cannot avoid.
Source 1 - fluoride in food
Source 2 - fluorapatite crystal
Source 3 - skeletal fluorosis in india