Fluoride is an inorganic, monatomic anion of fluorine with the chemical formula F−. Fluoride is the simplest anion of fluorine. Its salts and minerals are important chemical reagents and industrial chemicals, mainly used in the production of hydrogen fluoride for fluorocarbons. In terms of charge and size, the fluoride ion resembles the hydroxide ion. Fluoride ions occur on earth in several minerals, particularly fluorite, but are only present in trace quantities in water. Fluoride contributes a distinctive bitter taste. It contributes no color to fluoride salts. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It also reverses early decay. In children under 6 years of age, fluoride becomes incorporated into the development of permanent teeth, making it difficult for acids to demineralize the teeth. Fluoride also helps speed remineralization as well as disrupts acid production in already erupted teeth of both children and adults.
When Fluoride Intake is most necessary
Dry mouth conditions: Also called xerostomia, dry mouth caused by diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome, certain medications (such as allergy medications, antihistamines, antianxiety drugs, and high blood pressure drugs), and head and neck radiation treatment makes someone more prone to tooth decay. The lack of saliva makes it harder for food particles to be washed away and acids to be neutralized.
Gum disease: Gum disease, also called periodontitis, can expose more of your tooth and tooth roots to bacteria increasing the chance of tooth decay. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontitis.
History of frequent cavities: If you have one cavity every year or every other year, you might benefit from additional fluoride.
Presence of crowns and/or bridges or braces: These treatments can put teeth at risk for decay at the point where the crown meets the underlying tooth structure or around the brackets of orthodontic appliances.
Can Fluoride cause harm?
Fluoride is safe and effective when used as directed but can be hazardous at high doses (the “toxic” dosage level varies based on an individual’s weight). For this reason, it’s important for parents to carefully supervise their children’s use of fluoride-containing products and to keep fluoride products out of reach of children, especially children under the age of 6.
In addition, excess fluoride can cause defects in the tooth’s enamel that range from barely noticeable white specks or streaks to cosmetically objectionable brown discoloration. These defects are known as fluorosis and occur when the teeth are forming – usually in children younger than 6 years. Fluorosis, when it occurs, is usually associated with naturally occurring fluoride, such as that found in well water. If you use well water and are uncertain about the mineral (especially fluoride) content, a water sample should be tested. Although tooth staining from fluorosis cannot be removed with normal hygiene, your dentist may be able to lighten or remove these stains with professional-strength abrasives or bleaches.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s very difficult to reach hazardous levels given the low levels of fluoride in home-based fluoride-containing products. Nonetheless, if you do have concerns or questions about the amount of fluoride you or your child may be receiving, talk to your child’s dentist, pediatrician, or family doctor.