Fluoride is a natural substance that helps protect our teeth by making them stronger and reducing tooth decay.
Fluoride is a natural substance that helps protect our teeth by making them stronger, and reducing tooth decay. It exists naturally in air, soil, fresh water, sea water, plants and in lots of food.
Fluoride and its role in oral health
Fluoride works in three ways to help protect our teeth from decay:
- Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to decay by strengthening the tooth surface
- Fluoride interferes with the growth of the bacteria which cause cavities
- Fluoride helps to repair the early stages of tooth decay.
Eating and drinking increases the acidity in the mouth – this can remove the minerals from teeth, leading to tooth decay. Drinking fluoridated water and brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste increases the concentration of fluoride in saliva and plaque fluid. Fluoride in water acts like a constant repair kit that neutralises the effect of acids that cause decay and helps to repair damage before it becomes permanent.
Fluoride toothpaste is an effective method of reducing dental decay. It provides an additional benefit above that of fluoridated water.
Most fluoridated toothpastes on sale contain at least 1000 ppm of fluoride (i.e. 0.221% sodium fluoride or 0.76% sodium monofluorophosphate). This is the recommended strength for adults and children, based on the consensus of many years of research on the effectiveness of different strengths of toothpaste. Adults should us a ‘pea’ sized amount and younger children should use just a smear of the same strength toothpaste on a small brush. Children should be discouraged from swallowing or eating toothpaste. Tooth brushing should be done twice daily.
Water fluoridation is the process of adjusting the natural level of fluoride in the water supply to between 0.7 ppm and 1.0 ppm. This is the optimal amount that provides protection against tooth decay, and is recommended by the World Health Organization.
The current level of fluoride found in untreated water supplies in New Zealand is not effective enough to be of benefit in helping to prevent tooth decay, so ‘topping up’ the fluoride levels in reticulated water supplies has been done in many regions around New Zealand over several decades. The amount added is monitored to make sure that the levels stay within that range.
Along with brushing twice a day, eating healthy foods and timely check-ups with a dental provider, water fluoridation is a proven public health measure to reduce tooth decay. The World Health Organization and other international and national health and scientific experts endorse water fluoridation as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay. The role of fluoride in water has been examined in many locations and in many countries, including New Zealand, over the last 60 years.