A popular Sixties-era hair cream touted their product with the tagline, "A little dab'll do ya!" In other words, it didn't take much to make your hair look awesome.
Something similar could be said about fluoride. Tiny amounts of this "wonder" chemical in hygiene products and drinking water are widely credited with giving people a big boost in protection against tooth decay.
A Colorado dentist is credited with first noticing fluoride's beneficial effects early in the Twentieth Century. Although many of his patients' teeth had brownish staining (more about that in a moment), he also noticed they had a low incidence of cavities. He soon traced the effect to fluoride naturally occurring in their drinking water.
Fast forward to today, and fluoride is routinely added in trace amounts to dental care products and by water utilities to the drinking water supply. It's discovery and application have been heralded as one of the top public health successes of the Twentieth Century.
Fluoride, though, seems a little too amazing for some. Over its history of use in dental care, critics of fluoride have argued the chemical contributes to severe health problems like low IQ, cancer or birth defects.
But after several decades of study, the only documented health risk posed by fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, a form of staining that gives the teeth a brown, mottled appearance (remember our Colorado residents?). It's mainly a cosmetic problem, however, and poses no substantial threat to a person's oral or general health.
And, it's easily prevented. Since it's caused by too much fluoride in prolonged contact with the teeth, fluorosis can be avoided by limiting fluoride intake to the minimum necessary to be effective. Along these lines, the U.S. Public Health Service recently reduced its recommended amounts added to drinking water 0.7 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of water. Evidence indicated fluoride's effectiveness even at these lower amounts.
You may also want to talk with your dentist about how much fluoride your family is ingesting, including from hidden sources like certain foods, infant formula or bottled water. Even if you need to reduce your family's intake of fluoride, though, a little in your life can help keep your family's teeth in good health.
If you would like more information on the benefits of fluoride in dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”