Should you be using a fluoride-free toothpaste? The answer has a lot to do with your age. Children younger than two years old, for example, shouldn’t use more toothpaste than a grain of rice, in case they ingest it. For the majority of children and adults, fluoride provides excellent benefits to your teeth. While some people debate over whether or not to use fluoride, this naturally occurring mineral is a safe ingredient that helps protect your teeth from cavities.
What Is Fluoride?
The mineral fluoride occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and is released into the soil, water and air. Fluoride makes teeth stronger and more resistant to cavity-forming acids, working to prevent decay long before you would even notice it. Because it has been shown to help prevent cavities, additional fluoride is sometimes added to a community’s water.
Brief History of Fluoride
The relationship between fluoride and dental health has been heavily researched for over 100 years. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recounts the origins of studying fluoride, from 1901 through the 1930s. Several small towns were noticing that their children’s adult teeth were growing in with mottled brown spots. However, the townspeople’s teeth were also resistant to decay.
Researchers discovered that high levels of fluoride in the towns’ drinking water was the main culprit for the stains, as well as the additional strength. By the 1940s, it was known that fluoride in regulated amounts would help prevent cavities. After adding fluoride to the city water in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the rate of tooth decay among children dropped more than 60 percent.
It’s now standard practice for water to be infused with fluoride to ensure that people get an adequate amount. Some foods, beverages, toothpastes, supplements, and even some mouthwashes contain it as well.
What Does Fluoride Do?
As bacteria and sugars form acids that slowly lead to decay, fluoride works to strengthen the enamel, the protective surface around all your teeth, so they don’t succumb to it. Before a baby’s primary teeth start to emerge, their enamel is strengthened by the fluoride consumed through foods and beverages. When teeth break through the gums, these natural sources of fluoride help rebuild any weakened enamel as they grow in.
And it’s not just for kids! Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay in adults as well. The fluoride found in toothpaste and mouthwash, known as topical fluoride, works on people of any age. Children and adults need to be careful if they only consume bottled water, though. Because many brands aren’t fluoridated, additional treatment might be needed alongside a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Discuss this concern and potential treatment options with your dentist to ensure your daily routine includes an adequate amount of fluoride
Should You Use Fluoride-Free Toothpaste?
If you’re considering using a fluoride-free toothpaste for your children, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), a smear of toothpaste with fluoride is recommended from the eruption of the first tooth to 3 years old. A pea-sized amount is then recommended for children ages 3-6. These recommended amounts take into consideration the possible risk for dental fluorosis, which is discoloration or pitting on the teeth. It may appear as brown spots, scatter white specks or white spots. The teeth may even feel rough.
If you discover that you’re allergic to fluoride, there are plenty of fluoride-free toothpastes you can try. If you have concerns about how using fluoride relates to specific medical conditions or about how it affects your health overall, talk to your physician.
Additionally, if you believe you’re already getting enough fluoride through food and drinks, speak with your dentist or doctor about your specific fluoride needs. There’s a significant difference in how fluoride applied topically and ingested fluoride affect your oral health. Fluoride in dental care products strengthen existing teeth, making them more resistant to decay, while systemic (ingested) fluorides help develop strong tooth structures before they erupt, says the ADA. Saliva also contains systemic fluoride, helping keep your mouth continuously protected.
Based on decades of research, fluoride has a proven track-record of protecting teeth and improving oral health. Make sure you’re brushing twice a day and flossing daily to have the healthiest smile possible.