We’ve all seen ads for toothpaste and mouthwash that has fluoride as an ingredient. What is fluoride, anyway?
Fluoride comes from Fluorine, which is known as F on the periodic table. It has an atomic number of 9, which means that it has 9 protons in its nucleus. Flourine also has 9 electrons. Fluoride is made from those electrons, usually as a byproduct of another chemical process.
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that is, to varying degrees, found in all of the world’s water bodies. In areas where the natural water source does not contain enough fluoride to positively affect dental health, it can be added to municipal drinking water supplies. About 75% of the drinking water in the US is fluoridated.
In 1901, Frederick McKay, a new dental school graduate, left his home in the East Coast and settled in Colorado Springs, CO to open a dental practice. Almost immediately, he was surprised to see that a majority of his patients had dark brown stains on their teeth. He couldn’t find anything about the condition in the dental journals of the day so he decided to determine the cause and cure on his own.
His quest was considered so unusual that he could find no local dentists to help him with his study. That changed in 1909 when Dr. G.V. Black, a dental researcher, agreed to come to Colorado Springs to see for himself and determine why the stained teeth were extremely resistant to decay.
When Dr. Black arrived he, too, was amazed at the high number, he measured it at 90%, of people who had stained teeth. He began studying the condition, that would later be called Fluorosis – damage to dental enamel due to exposure to high levels of fluoride during the development of teeth.
Dr. McKay intuited that the staining might have something to do with the drinking water, but wasn’t sure. In 1923, he went to Oakley, ID to meet with parents whose children had brown stains on their teeth. The town had recently run a water line from a nearby spring. Dr. McKay recommended that they stop drinking the water from the new source and, within a few years, the younger children’s teeth were free from stains.
Dr. McKay investigated stained teeth in Bauxite, AR, where the ALCOA had a mining operation. He noted that residents in a nearby town did not suffer from stained teeth. He sent a water sample to ALCOA’s Chief Chemist, H.V. Churchill, who had much more sophisticated analyzing equipment. Mr. Churchill determined that the water in Bauxite had extremely high levels of fluoride.
According to the Campaign for Dental Health, in children, fluoride is ingested when they drink fluoridated water. It enters the bloodstream and is combined with calcium and phosphorus while the teeth are being formed. By the way, dairy products are a good source of calcium and many meats, poultry, soy, nuts, legumes, and fish are good sources of phosphorus.
In young adults and adults, fluoride in foods and beverages mixes with saliva, which neutralizes the acid that is produced by the bacteria that are on our teeth. As a bonus, fluoride actually heals our teeth, to varying degrees, and protects them from decay.
If you would like to learn more about how fluoride can reduce your teeth’s susceptibility to decay, contact us.