Fluoride is one of the many defenses against bacteria and acids and protects teeth from damage. This is why, on top of having fluoride in our toothpaste and mouthwash, dentists also recommend drinking fluoridated water to protect your body round the clock from dental health hazards.
While recent studies have found that links excess fluoride intake can lead to various health issues, the word “excess” has to be taken into account. The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) and Health Canada maintain that as long as the fluoride in community water systems remains in the recommended levels, citizens will continue to reap the many dental benefits of this body-friendly chemical.
Why You Need Fluoride in Your Water
For 80 years, there has been a significant decline in tooth decay among communities that have fluoridated water systems. Communities have fewer and less severe cases of cavities, have a reduced need for fillings and tooth extraction, and have reported fewer incidents of pain due to tooth decay. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has rightfully dubbed water fluoridation as one of the Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century.
- Safe, Effective, and Natural
Fluoride is a natural substance found in our bones and teeth, as well as in rocks, plants, the soil, and surface and groundwater. Naturally occurring fluoride in water supplies is rich in calcium fluoride, which is beneficial to our teeth when taken in the right amount.
Fluoride can also be found in your toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, fillings, fluoride supplements, as well as in select foods and beverages. These items are highly recommended for use in areas not serviced by a municipal distribution system subject to the Ontario Clean Water Act.
The City of Guelph relies on the naturally occurring fluoride with levels that are beneath the standard set by Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Fights Tooth Decay Effectively
Every day our teeth battle bacteria. Every day, we win because we have fluoride in our teeth. When bacteria accumulate, they produce acids that break down the enamel (the protective layer), which, when unattended, can lead to tooth decay.
Fluoride wards of tooth decay by:
- Strengthening tooth enamel – Fluoride transforms some of the hydroxyapatite in your enamel to fluorapatite, which is less soluble in acid, further delaying the tooth decay process.
- Inhibiting the formation of plaque-forming bacteria – Fluoride forms fluorine ions that, when bonded with hydrogen ions, can infiltrate bacteria walls and reduce their ability to consume sugars and produce acids.
- Remineralizing teeth – Fluoride helps with minor enamel decay. It creates a film over areas in your teeth where the enamel has been more exposed to recent decay. After the hydroxyapatite dissolves from the enamel surface, your body naturally “fixes” it by producing saliva that carries calcium and phosphate ions necessary for this process. However, if your mouth is too acidic, your teeth cannot use the ions in your saliva, and this slows down or stops remineralization. Fluoride makes it happen by sticking to the partially dissolved minerals in your enamel. The fluoride-remineralized surface is even more acid-resistant than its predecessor.
- Best Protection Against Cavities for All Ages
A 2019 report from the O’Brien Institute of Public Health finds that because of water fluoridation, there have been:
- 50% lower rates of hospital admissions for tooth decay surgeries for children
- 37% reduction in children’s permanent teeth affected by cavities
- 35% reduction in the number of adults suffering from the effects of tooth decay and cavities
The importance of introducing fluoride as a crucial component of early dental care cannot be understated. While toothpaste offers higher fluoride concentration, the effects wear off after 1 to 2 hours. While dental treatments use fluoride, it’s not enough to rely on them since they are only done occasionally. Dental care, however, has to be a daily endeavour; drinking fluoridated water can boost the body’s ability to ward off cavities.
- Big Savings in the Long Run
One major reason for pulling out fluoridation in Canada’s water systems is the cost it entails. However, a Canadian study found that for every dollar invested in water fluoridation, the municipality saves an estimated $38 in dental treatment costs. The CDC has also found that the costs of restorative care to prevent dental disease are greater than the cost of water fluoridation, regardless of town size.
Under typical conditions, the annual per person cost savings in fluoridated communities is $16 in communities of fewer than 5,000 people and $19 dollars in communities of greater than 20,000 people. In short, the lifetime cost of water fluoridation per person is less than the cost of one dental filling.
- Is Fluoride Toxic?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA defines fluorine — NOT fluoride — as a hazardous waste. Fluorine is the element where fluoride comes from, but fluoride is not made entirely of fluorine. However, excess fluoride intake can have detrimental side effects on one’s body.
Like many other substances, fluoride is toxic in high concentrations. While an unlikely occurrence in Ontario municipalities, accidental exposure to high concentrations of fluoride can lead to fluoride poisoning, which can manifest as abdominal pain, excessive saliva, nausea and vomiting, and seizures and muscle spasms. It can also cause dental fluorosis and thyroid problems. However, this will not result from drinking tap water with the recommended levels of fluoride.
The toxicity of fluoride to the human body is directly proportional to concentration; high concentrations of fluoride in drinking water are often the result of human error or accidents such as fires or explosions. Other potential explanations of fluoride toxicity include:
- high concentrations of fluoride in natural fresh water
- untested bottled water
- inappropriate use of fluoride supplements
Fluoridated Water and Infant Formula
The concern over using fluoridated water for infant formula is understandable, since parents are expected to be super-protective of their young. Because of this, parents are asked to be vigilant and responsible for their kids’ fluoride intake.
If you live in an area with highly fluoridated water, consider feeding your baby with ready-to-feed formula, or powdered or liquid concentrate formula reconstituted with fluoride-free or low-fluoride water. Always check the fluoride levels in your baby’s toothpaste and bottled drinking water.
The Future of Fluoride in Canada
Fluoride remains an essential component of dental health. For over 80 years, oral health professionals and practitioners have voiced out tremendous support for the science-backed notion that our teeth reap significant benefits from fluoride. This is why maintaining recommended levels of fluoride in local water systems is being promoted in countries across the world.
This support, however, is not without opposition from groups that are skeptical about the benefits of the chemical to the teeth and to the human body. In Canada, citizens in different municipalities have continued to debate over water fluoridation in their communities.
Although Guelph does not add fluoride to their municipal water, the recent significant spike in cavities among Canada’s younger population has prompted Health Canada and the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) to reintroduce water fluoridation as an important public health measure.
For concerns regarding your dental health, turn to Dr. Urzsula Barrios and her team. We have dental services and advice. Call us now at (519) 767-6453 to schedule an appointment for you and your family.