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Fluoride is back in the news again – but why?

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The media seems to be full of articles on fluoride these days. It’s little wonder, as its one of the most important issues of all when it comes to taking care of our teeth.

Fluoride is one of those strange media topics that seem to pop up for a while, then go underground, then become ‘hot’ once again in terms of its media presence. 

We find this somewhat strange, as it seems self-evident to most dentists that we should have put the fluoride debate to bed many years ago. But in case there’s any doubt out there as to the role and track record of fluoride, let’s take it from the top one more time!

We fully acknowledge that there’s a strong anti-fluoride sentiment out there, in certain quarters, and no doubt the proponents of that view are big enough and bold enough to make their own case.

Leading the way in the battle against dental caries.

So let’s concentrate on the pro-fluoride case, for a moment. Without doubt, fluoride is one of the most important and effective breakthroughs in the battle against dental caries and the associate fillings that were much more prominent on years and decades gone by.

If you talk to older dentists, in particular, they’ll tell you that they’ve seen, at first hand, the difference in dental health over the decades – much of which is ascribed to the introduction of fluoride into our water supply.

And it’s not just Ireland where this picture can be noted. Right around the world, dental health has improved beyond recognition in areas where fluoride has been added to the water.

Does research support these claims?

So the evidence of our own eyes tells us that fluoride makes a big difference – but there have also been numerous studies over the years that support the claim that fluoride has a major beneficial impact on the enamel of the teeth, improving its ability to fight dental decay.

As to how big a difference fluoride makes, the most likely figure, based on multiple research projects, seems to be in the region of 22% to 26% reduction in decay levels. And bear in mind that this figure applies WITHOUT any intervention on the part of the individual. So think of how this improvement can be added to if you add in regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste, for example.

What exactly is fluoride?

Fluoride is actually a substance that occurs naturally in the body, so introducing it to our water supply is not looking to do anything that doesn’t occur naturally. You’ll find fluoride in quite a few parts of the body – including your blood, your saliva.

Getting technical for a moment, fluoride also occurs in your crevicular fluid – this is a clear fluid that the cells in the gingival crevice produce. In simpler terms, it occurs around the area where your teeth meet your gums.

Fluoride exists in the body in small quantities – it’s actually measured in ppm, which means parts per million. The addition of extra quantities via the water supply raises this level, helping in the battle against dental decay.

What’s the day-to-day impact for our patients?

Fluoride is not a miracle cure for all dental ailments. It your teeth are crooked and you need clear braces, for example, no amount of fluoride will solve this problem for you. Obviously, clear braces cost money, so we’d love it if fluoride were a catchall cure for everything.

But the bottom line is that dental caries is one of the most frequently occurring ailments in the world, so rather than focus on what fluoride can’t cure, should we not be grateful that we live in an age where its additional benefits can be enjoyed simply through our drinking water?

Want to know more?

If you’d like to know more about this topic, you can check out what the World Health Organisation has to say on the matter – http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/fluoride_drinking_water/en/