Why do dentists recommend that you use a fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash? Is it safe to drink fluoridated water?
The fluoride debate still rages on, but the data speaks for itself: Australians born since 1970, when fluoride was introduced into most water supplies, are half as likely to have tooth decay as the previous generation.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally at low levels in water and many foods. It’s commonly added to toothpastes and mouthwashes in safe concentrations, and it can be used at higher concentrations in gels and varnishes applied to teeth by a professional dentist, or in prescribed supplements.
Fluoride is naturally present in most water supplies at very low levels that don’t have a noticeable impact on teeth. The artificial fluoridation of drinking water is widely practised in Australia and many other countries around the world, increasing fluoride levels to have a beneficial effect on oral health.
How does it help your teeth?
Fluoride helps to protect your teeth against tooth decay and acid erosion by strengthening the enamel (outer layer). It can even reverse gum disease in its early stages.
Dental plaque that builds up on your teeth causes the enamel to lose minerals over time, and these minerals can be replaced when you drink fluoridated water, apply fluoride toothpaste directly to your teeth or rinse your mouth with a fluoride mouthwash. Other minerals present in food and drinks can also help to remineralise your teeth, such as calcium and phosphate.
Fluoride helps to protect dental health at all ages, but it’s especially helpful for young children under six years of age who don’t yet have all their permanent teeth. When children consume fluoride at safe levels, fluoride becomes integrated into the enamel and can make their teeth more resistant to decay for life. This means they’re less likely to need dental treatments such as fillings or root canals in the future, as long as they take good care of their oral health.
Are there any side effects of fluoride?
Fluoride is safe in low concentrations such as those found in oral care products and drinking water, but it can cause problems when the concentration is increased above recommended levels advised by the Australian Government Depart of Health. These levels vary based on a person’s weight, meaning young children are especially at risk of consuming excess quantities.
If a child does have too much fluoride, this can sometimes cause fluorosis – permanent staining of the teeth enamel with white spots or brown streaks. This is unlikely to happen with tap water, toothpaste and other everyday fluoride products, but if you use well water, you should have its mineral content tested regularly to make sure.
Since water fluoridation was first introduced in the 1940s, various groups with different agendas have made claims about its supposed negative impact on health. Unsubstantiated links have been made between fluoride and diseases, while conspiracy theories have claimed everything from a communist plot to Illuminati mind control.
None of these claims has stood up to scrutiny. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has made several systematic reviews over the past decade and found water fluoridation to be safe and beneficial to health.
Speak to a dentist in Melbourne
If you’re due for your dental check-up or you need to make an emergency appointment, contact our dental clinics in Brunswick and Kew to speak to our friendly team.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Australia’s Health 2012: in brief [Online] 2012 [Accessed July 2017] Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737422173
 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Health effects of water fluoridation [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2017] Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/health-effects-water-fluoridation