Fluoride is a mineral found in nature -- in the ocean, in the earth's crust and in fresh water. Fluoride works by making the enamel, or the outer layer, of your teeth stronger, thus making them less prone to cavities.
Fluoride is provided mainly through drinking water, toothpaste and mouthwash. It is also available through supplements (chewable tablets or drops) and gels or rinses that can be applied during dental visits. By far, adding fluoride to drinking water is the best way to provide fluoride protection to a large number of people at a low cost. Many towns and cities do this. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control recently named fluoridation of drinking water one of the 10 most successful public health measures of this century.
Optimal levels of water fluoridation means finding the right balance between too much and not enough fluoride. It is recommended that this optimal level be between 0.8 and 1.0 ppm (parts per million). Health Canada, through a joint federal/provincial committee is responsible for this determination.
Too much fluoride in drinking water can contribute to dental fluorosis. Fluorosis occurs when white specks appear on a child's teeth. Most fluorosis is mild and barely visible. Fluorosis is not health threatening and is mainly a cosmetic concern. In more severe cases, it can easily be treated by the dentist. Fluorosis is not a problem for older children or adults.
Despite the possibility of dental fluorosis, fluoridation of drinking water is still the most economical means of getting proven fluoride protection for teeth. Where fluoride has been added to municipal water supplies, there has been a marked decline in tooth decay rates – between 35% and 50% in children and 30% in adults.
The bottom line is that fluoride prevents cavities. Dentists and the Canadian Dental Association (C.D.A.) are well aware of its value. The C.D.A.'s position on water fluoridation encourages the protection of those most in need: “The C.D.A. supports fluoridation of municipal water supplies as a safe, economical and effective means of preventing cavities in all age groups. Fluoride levels in community water supplies should be monitored and adjusted to ensure consistency in concentrations and avoid fluctuations.”
For more information on fluoride and dentistry, please talk to your dentist. The C.D.A. encourages you to be an active partner in your oral health care and to discuss any issues of concern with your dentist.