If you’ve ever been to a dentist’s office, you may have been advised to undergo fluoride treatment, or at least increase the amount of fluoride in your daily hygiene routine to improve cavity protection. Perhaps you’ve seen fluoride on the labels of many dental health products, including toothpaste and certain mouthwashes.
What, Exactly, is Fluoride?
A compound of the element fluorine, fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally, but is also manufactured in some cases for commercial use. Its dental benefits were first observed during the turn of the 20th century, when a young dentist named Frederick McKay observed an odd phenomenon in the town of Colorado Springs.
Among the townspeople, there was seeming epidemic of severely stained teeth; some were so severe as to almost resemble the color of chocolate. What McKay and his colleagues found astounding, however, was that the brown-stained teeth were virtually impervious to tooth decay. Extensive research followed, and the cause for both abnormalities proved to be the fluoride content in the local water supply.
After years of experimentation, experts discovered that fluoride in moderation provided the same cavity-fighting properties without the stigma of brown-stained teeth. Shortly thereafter, water fluoridation became an official policy in the majority of cities across the United States.
Fluoride and Cavity Prevention
Your tooth enamel, which is the strongest substance that your body produces, is your tooth’s first and foremost protection against tooth decay. Enamel is also highly mineralized, and relies on minerals such as calcium, phosphate, and fluoride to remain strong. When acids from your meals attack your teeth, they deplete essential minerals and weaken your enamel.
Fluoride bonds to the surfaces of your tooth enamel, helping enamel retain its strength in the midst of acid attacks. By brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, rinsing with fluoridated mouthwash, drinking fluoride-treated tap water, or receiving a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office, you can significantly increase your cavity-fighting prowess.