About 69% of Americans drink fluoridated water, but in 2014 Portlanders voted against fluoridating the city’s water. In fact, only about 23% of Oregonians have access to fluoridated water, putting us near the bottom compared to other states.

We aren’t writing to take a side on the issue, but to offer facts about the benefits of fluoride, and how you can make sure that you and your family can take advantage of them without fluoridated municipal water.

The most important thing to remember? Children who ingest fluoride up to age 12, in pill or other approved forms, will be at less risk to tooth decay than children who don’t, and the benefits last a lifetime. It’s up to parents in Oregon to make sure their children get the right amount of fluoride at the right time.

How does fluoride benefit children?

When fluoride is present in a child’s body, it is synthesized into the teeth. Enamel that has been exposed to fluoride is chemically different from enamel that was underexposed to fluoride. This enamel is much, much more resistant to demineralization, and suffers fewer cavities and other problems caused by tooth decay.

A potential risk to ingesting fluoride is a condition called fluorosis, which generally causes a cosmetic staining of the teeth. Anti-fluoridation activists cite other more serious risks to children, but many studies have found no risks when fluoride is administered in the recommended dose.

Every day your enamel, the outermost layer of your teeth, is attacked by bacteria, acids, and sugars in your mouth in a process is called demineralization. Too much demineralization without remineralization means tooth decay and cavities!

Throughout the lifetime of our teeth we can reverse the demineralization process, called remineralization, with topical fluoride in products like toothpaste, fluoride rinses and others. But, without fluoride early on, there is a less robust surface on the teeth to rebuild, and studies have shown that tooth decay occurs at far higher rates in people who did not ingest fluoride as children.

The takeaway? People who had the right amount of fluoride in the body as children have much hardier teeth.

How does fluoride benefit adults?

For an adult, ingesting fluoride has little benefit. Once the adult teeth are formed, only topical fluoride has a significant effect on the enamel. In fact, ingesting too much fluoride can be toxic, and this is the gravest concern for anti-fluoridation advocates. The EPA calls a dose of four parts per million (ppm)  of fluoride unacceptably high, but the recommended dose, currently less than 1 ppm as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services, has not been found to cause any health problems.

The way adults benefit from fluoride is through topical treatments, primarily in toothpaste, fluoride rinses and varnishes. Good brushing and flossing habits are vital to preventing decay, and fluoride strengthens the enamel, hardening it against the decay that happens naturally as we eat and drink. Adults should use a fluoridated toothpaste as part of their home care routine, but for those who need more remineralization, prescription toothpastes, fluoride mouthwashes, and in-clinic fluoride treatments are all options to strengthen the enamel. Dr. Krause and Dr. Kato can recommend the best option for you.

Make sure that you brush and floss every day, to get rid of that pesky sugar and bacteria in your mouth, especially between the teeth! According to the ADA, “The remineralization effect of fluoride is important because it reverses the early decay process as well as creating a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay.” But remember, even when using fluoride, brushing and flossing are still vital! We want to see those pearly whites sparkling in all their enameled glory, so make sure you do all three!

Here are the options, and their pros and cons

Fluoride toothpastes

Any ADA-endorsed toothpaste will have the right amount of fluoride for most adults. Children under six can use low-fluoride children’s toothpastes with supervision from mom or dad. Be sure to teach children not to swallow the toothpaste!

Fluoride Rinses

These are not recommended for children six and under because they can accidentally swallow the rinse, but are a great option for adults looking to strengthen their teeth or reduce sensitivity. Use daily after brushing and flossing. Look for the seal from the American Dental Association (ADA) so that you know it has been evaluated.

Fluoride Tablets

These are best for children up to about age twelve. Typically, one pill per day until the adult teeth are developed will ensure the best possible benefits. Be sure to follow the prescribed dosage.

Prescription-only treatments

We include topical fluoride treatments for children and adults as part of the regular course of treatment. We also provide prescription-strength fluoride toothpastes and gels for patients with more serious needs.

Any more questions? You can ask us!