OK, What’s the Real Deal with Fluoride?

In the early 1900s, tooth decay —  and by extension, tooth loss —  was incredibly common. But by the mid-1900s, dentists and researchers had discovered the power of fluoride as a critical prevention tool.

Adding fluoride to public drinking water is hailed as one of the great public health initiatives of the 20th century. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communities with water fluoridation experience 25% fewer cavities than communities without water fluoridation. As of 2018, more than 87% of North Carolinaians were served by a community water system that has fluoridated water.

In recent years, there’s been much discussion and debate about the need to add fluoride to public drinking water. Like many things, fluoride too can be dangerous in high doses or at toxic levels. In 2011, federal health officials recommended a new level of fluoride for water: 0.7 parts per million.

Here are a few common questions about fluoride: 

What is fluoride? 

Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally. It’s released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. Almost all water contains some level of fluoride, but not typically enough to prevent tooth decay. That’s why it’s added to public drinking water at the recommended levels. 

How exactly does fluoride prevent tooth decay? 

Fluoride can stop or even reverse the tooth decay process. It keeps the tooth enamel strong and solid, protecting it from bacteria that forms in the mouth after eating sugar or refined carbohydrates. 

Does fluoride pose any danger? 

High fluoride concentration can lead to a mild condition called fluorosis — faint, white specks on teeth. Fluorosis isn’t painful and doesn’t impact the tooth’s function. The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms fluoridated water is safe for children. It cites 70 years of research validating the safety of fluoride in drinking water. 

If I have fluoride in my water, do I need it in my toothpaste too? 

Any toothpaste will help remove plaque from your teeth and gums, helping you avoid gum disease and tooth decay. The addition of fluoride in toothpaste provides an extra layer of protection by making the tooth enamel stronger and harder for plaque to penetrate. 

Studies continue to demonstrate the benefits of fluoride, pointing to lower instances of tooth decay, greater cavity prevention and a public cost savings. 

Want to learn more about fluoride?