Fluoride has been used in dentistry for decades due to its propensity to reduce and prevent cavities and tooth decay. The mineral works to strengthen the enamel, making it more resistant to the acidic by-products created by the bacteria in your mouth. That’s why it has been purposely added to our drinking water, toothpaste, and mouthwash — and is used in higher concentrations in dental offices.
So, why avoid fluoride in toothpaste now?
Below we’ll discuss the pros and cons of fluoride in toothpaste and why many dental health professionals are encouraging their patients to go fluoride free.
What Exactly Is Fluoride and How Does it Work?
To better decide whether fluoride is essential to your dental hygiene, you’ll need to understand what it is and what it does.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that’s typically found in soil and rocks. Small amounts of the mineral are also found in some plants as well as the air and certain water sources — including the ocean.
There are actually four types of fluorides:
- Sodium fluoride (NaF)
- Acidulated phosphate fluoride (APF)
- Stannous fluoride (SnF2)
- Monofluorophosphate (Na2PO3F)
While sodium fluoride is the most common form of the mineral used in dentistry, stannous fluoride is usually found in over-the-counter (OTC) fluoride toothpaste and mouthwashes. Both serve the same purpose — to prevent dental cavities — however, they work in slightly different ways.
- Sodium fluoride works to defend tooth enamel by preventing dental caries by killing off the bacteria that cause dental plaque.
- Stannous fluoride works to prevent tooth decay in the same way, but it takes things a step further with its antimicrobial properties that help to manage and treat gingivitis and gum disease.
As far as fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash go, stannous fluoride is favored for total oral health care.
Why Avoid Fluoride in Toothpaste? (Pros & Cons)
Over the years, there have been many studies on the efficacy and safety of fluoridated dental products as well as fluoride in drinking water. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even named fluoridation “one of the ten great public health achievements in the 20th century”.
Despite being a natural contender in maintaining good dental health, fluoride also comes with several drawbacks — especially in higher concentrations.
✅ The Pros of Fluoride
- It prevents cavities and tooth decay. As noted earlier, the mineral is incredibly powerful in preventing tooth decay and dental caries. It’s able to do this by strengthening tooth enamel by replacing minerals that have been lost due to the corrosive acid caused by bacteria that wears it down over time.
- It prevents tooth loss. Because fluoride works to mitigate the demineralization process from occurring by replacing lost minerals, it indirectly prevents tooth loss. Essentially, strong enamel keeps the overall structure of your teeth strong and sturdy, which means the roots are also protected.
- It prevents gum disease. In addition to protecting teeth, certain fluoridated dental products have antimicrobial properties that kill the bad bacteria along the gumline as well. This helps to prevent gingivitis and periodontitis.
❌ The Cons of Fluoride
- It’s potentially toxic. The mineral’s greatest controversy is the fact that it’s considered a “pre-toxic” substance. This means that even in small doses, it has the ability to damage cells. However, it would take much higher doses to actually cause serious harm — but even slightly damaging cells is damage enough.
- It can cause dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is the condition caused by ingesting excess fluoride during the early years of tooth development. It shows up as white spots or streaks on the teeth, and in severe cases, it will result in pitting and discoloration. Essentially, it has the potential to harm the enamel of very young children ages eight and below.
- It can cause stomach upset and negative effects. Accidentally swallowing excess fluoride can also lead to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, tingling, periostitis, skeletal fluorosis, and even intestinal blockage. While it would take fairly high doses to affect adults, too much fluoride can easily and often do affect small children.
Should You Be Using Fluoride-Free Toothpaste?
After learning about the adverse side effects that fluoride can have on very young children and over time, as we age, you may be wondering whether you should discontinue your use of fluoride toothpaste and other oral care products.
While using fluoridated oral care products is still considered an effective way of keeping your teeth and gums healthy, there are certain precautions you’ll want to take to ensure that you and your children don’t suffer from any adverse side effects. This would include:
- Ensuring that you spit out your fluoridated toothpaste after brushing your teeth (if you’re someone who likes to use a lot of toothpaste, you may want to follow up with a freshwater rinse).
- Monitoring young children to make sure that they spit out their toothpaste after brushing
- Making sure that if your children are under the age of three, they don’t use more than a grain of rice-sized amount. If they’re between the ages of three and eight, they should only be using a pea-sized amount.
- Ensuring that the toothpaste you’re using on your children only contains a fluoride level of 1,000 parts per million (ppm) for children under three and 1,350-1,500 ppm for children between three and eight.
Are There Any Alternatives to Fluoride?
You may be considering skipping fluoride altogether, which is perfectly fine as there are effective alternatives and things you can do to prevent enamel loss, tooth decay, and gum disease, such as:
- Use nano-hydroxyapatite (n-HA) toothpaste. Nano-hydroxyapatite is the most recommended alternative to fluoride. It’s just as effective, and it’s considered safer as it’s a compound that the body naturally produces on its own.
- Make sure you’re flossing twice daily
- Commit to regular visits with your dentist for cleanings and exams
- Avoid food and drinks that are high in sugar
- Avoid oral piercings
- Quit smoking
What Does Your Dentist Think?
If you’re unsure of whether you should stop using fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay and other issues, it’s a good idea to speak with your regular dentist directly.
While you’re at it, you may also want to schedule a cleaning and check on your overall dental health. You can do that by Contacting us at Wayzata Dental. Don’t forget to ask about our other dental services!