What is Fluoride?

Fluoride can be a controversial topic when discussing the dental health of children. There are many different opinions as to whether fluoride is actually helpful in preventing tooth decay or if it has any dangerous health implications. The facts surrounding what fluoride is, where it can be found and its multiple uses may help decipher whether fluoride is a good choice for you and your children.

Fluoride is a monatomic, inorganic anion from the element of Fluorine (F).  An anion is a negatively charged ion, which is attracted to positively charged substances. Fluoride can be found in multiple different mineral sources on earth but is mostly found in trace quantities within water. It has a slightly bitter taste and no color.

Due to the fact that fluoride is an anion it sticks very firmly to the calcium ions found within the enamel of a tooth. Tooth enamel is comprised of calcium and phosphate and can be easily broken down by the sugar-loving bacteria found within the mouth. These bacteria produce acid as their bi-product, which decays the tooth. Saliva acts as a natural repair device for the enamel in the mouth by neutralizing these acids. However, the amount of acid decay often can be too much for the saliva to properly neutralize, this leads to cavities and decay in the mouth.  Fluoride is a helpful agent in this case because it sticks tightly to the teeth, reinforcing the enamel and protecting the teeth from bacteria and acids.

Normal doses of fluoride can occasionally leave white marks on the teeth. In extreme doses, discoloration can take place in brown or yellow coloring. There are certain studies which state fluorine in high doses can be toxic to the body, mostly the bones (skeletal fluorosis). However, many of the negative effects of fluoride are still open for discussion and study.

As with most substances, moderation is key. Fluoride certainly falls into this category.  Kids should not use a toothpaste with fluoride in it until they are at least 2 years of age. After that, only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush is enough to get the job done!