Fluoride: Why is it so important in our daily oral hygiene?

by Capt. Wah-Yung Tsang
General dentist

What is fluoride and what are its benefits?
Fluoride is a natural element that strengthens tooth enamel to become more resistant to cavities, and it helps repair or re-harden enamel in order to arrest the early cavities. If people drink optimally fluoridated water from birth, studies show children will have 65 percent fewer cavities and 90 percent fewer tooth extractions.  As adults, they will have 40 to 50 percent fewer decayed, missing or filled teeth.

How was fluoride discovered?
Fluoride was first discovered in 1901 in Colorado Springs by Dr. Frederick McKay. He found that 90 percent of Colorado Springs natives had grotesque “Colorado brown stains” on their teeth due to the high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the drinking water. On the other hand, their teeth were surprisingly and inexplicably resistant to decay. Ever since his findings were validated, fluoride has been confirmed as dental science’s main weapon in the battle against tooth decay. And don’t worry about those brown stains. Optimally fluoridated water today has significantly lower fluoride levels than what was found naturally in Colorado Springs water.

Where is fluoride found?
Fluoride is found in both topical and systemic forms.

Topical fluoride is fluoride that is applied directly to the tooth surface (i.e., gels or varnishes). It is found in dental offices and also most over-the-counter toothpastes. Topical fluoride strengthens the tooth and, in some cases, helps reverse the early cavity.

Systemic fluoride is the fluoride introduced through dietary means. These include some food and drink sources, such as dietary supplements, foods (canned sardines with bones, fish without bones, chicken, etc.), soft drinks, juices, bottled waters, tea and tap water in certain U.S. zip codes. Systemic fluoride makes developing teeth stronger and lingers in the saliva to strengthen teeth already in the mouth.

What is the optimal level of fluoride?
Most children in the U.S. get fluoride from tap water and toothpaste.  In the KMC, only the water on Ramstein Air Base is optimally fluoridated. When water is fluoridated, it is adjusted to be at safe levels for brushing your teeth, cooking and drinking. As a rule of thumb, a child who has not learned to spit should only use a rice size smear of toothpaste. Do not rinse after brushing teeth. This allows the fluoride to coat the surface of the teeth. Do not take a fluoride supplement if you are already getting fluoride from your tap water. If you buy bottled water, look for one that is optimally fluoridated. A 1- to 2-year-old child has to swallow almost two ounces of fluoride toothpaste (about 2 tablespoons), drink a third of a bottle of fluoride mouth rinse or take up to 50 tablets of fluoride supplement to reach a toxic dose. If this should happen, have the child drink milk and contact emergency personnel. Do not swallow large amounts of toothpaste and keep toothpaste out of reach of young children.  For questions, contact the 86th Dental Squadron at 479-2210 or 06371-46-2210.