One of the most common questions that I hear as a hygienist is “what toothpaste should I be using?”
My answer depends on a patient’s specific needs and can vary, but for the average person my answer is “a fluoride toothpaste.”
The enamel on your teeth is made up mostly of minerals – these are what make your teeth hard and strong. Through a process called demineralization, these minerals can slowly leach out of your teeth, causing them to soften. This eventually results in dental decay, or cavities. Many different things can cause this to happen including poor brushing/flossing habits, a sugary, high-carb or acidic diet, or dry mouth. Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral compound, replaces these missing minerals, strengthening the enamel. In fact, the re-mineralized enamel is actually more resistant to future demineralization than the original enamel. Do you see why your dentist and hygienist are excited about fluoride? Whether introduced through toothpaste, a rinse, or through your community’s water supply, fluoride is one of the easiest ways to help prevent dental decay.
Most people are exposed to fluoride every day through natural sources such as drinking water and foods they eat. Fluoride is found in lakes, rivers, streams, and well water at varying levels. In the early 1900s, dentists in the U.S. and Europe discovered that some of their patients had far lower rates of dental decay than others, and studies were begun to determine the cause. It was discovered to be the level of fluoride in the local drinking water supply. After this discovery, in 1914 fluoride started to be added to toothpastes. A few decades later in 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first community to add fluoride to the drinking water supply, and soon other cities followed suit. Communities that add fluoride to the water supply statistically have a 25% lower rate of childhood dental decay than those that do not. Now, after 70 years of scientific research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have named community water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Some concerns have been raised as to whether fluoride use, whether through community water or through dental products containing fluoride poses any risk to public health. Fluoride, like any other nutrient, is safe when used and consumed properly. Staining of the teeth can result if a person ingests too much fluoride, and for this reason water fluoride levels are monitored closely and kept within safe levels. Dental products such as toothpastes and rinses, meant to be used topically, clearly state not to ingest the product. Fluoride intake and use at optimal levels has not been shown to pose any other significant health risk.
Fluoride treatments can be done at your dental office if your oral habits put you at a higher risk of developing dental decay. At Creekside, we use a fluoride varnish that is applied and sits on the teeth until the patient brushes later that day. Toothpastes with prescription level fluoride can be prescribed for everyday use. Your dentist or hygienist may recommend a fluoride rinse at night. Every patient’s specific needs are taken into account before any recommendations are given. We love when patients take an interest in their oral health and would be happy to answer any questions you may have at your next visit!