Fluoride is an element on the periodic table. It has a bitter taste and can be found in crystalline forms in some areas of the Earth's crust. For more people, however, the most important thing to know about fluoride is that it's essential for healthy teeth. Without enough fluoride during childhood, the teeth end up weak and cavity-prone, and even adults who don't get enough fluoride tend to suffer from tooth decay. Even if you don't care at all about chemistry, knowing a bit about this element's role in dental health can help you keep your teeth strong.
How do people obtain fluoride?
Fluoride is found in most municipal water supplies in the United States, which means that your teeth come into contact with fluoride whenever you drink tap water. If you're a bottled water drinker, make sure you buy a brand that is fortified with fluoride – some are not. Fluoride is also found in a number of foods, including grapes, tomatoes, spinach, oranges, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables.
Do you need to brush with fluoride toothpaste if you drink fluoridated water?
Yes, the American Dental Association recommends that people use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste to brush twice per day. This toothpaste exposes your teeth to a greater concentration of fluoride, which help them to develop stronger enamel. Parents are advised to use fluoridated toothpaste for their children, too, beginning when the first tooth comes in. There is a trend towards people using "natural" toothpastes. Before buying one of these toothpastes, check to ensure it contains fluoride – many do not.
How does fluoride protect the teeth?
You've probably heard before that teeth are largely made from calcium. Fluoride plays a role in the chemical reaction by which the calcium you eat is converted to tooth enamel. Without fluoride, your teeth cannot convert the calcium in your diet into tooth enamel properly, and you end up with weak enamel that is susceptible to decay.
How can you tell if you're getting enough fluoride?
The best way to know is to ask your dentist. He or she can examine your teeth and tell how hard your enamel is. If your enamel seems weak or you're developing a lot of cavities, your dentist may recommend methods to increase your fluoride intake. These may include using a special high-fluoride toothpaste, eating more fluoride-rich foods, or undergoing an in-office fluoride treatment in which the dentist exposes your teeth to a super-concentrated solution of fluoride.
Calcium may be the mineral you hear about most often when it comes to dental care, but fluoride is just as important. Now that you know a little more about this mineral, make sure you're exposing your teeth to enough of it – and ask your dentist for other ways to improve your fluoride intake.