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Fluoride: What is it, and why is it important?

A recent article from Dentistry explored the debate surrounding water fluoridation in relation to its importance in the fight against child tooth decay, reporting that on the 23rd September 2021, chief medical officers across the UK agreed that fluoride is safe to add to drinking water. So what is fluoride, and how is it connected to the prevention of tooth decay in children?

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in all drinking water and many foods.  At the right concentration, fluoride can greatly benefit your dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel and making it more resistant to decay. According to the Oral Health Foundation, the research surrounding the addition of fluoride to water has continued for over 60 years, and water fluoridation has been proven to reduce decay by 40 to 60 percent.

What are the benefits?

Whilst fluoride naturally occurs in water, there are only a few places in the UK that have enough natural fluoride to benefit dental health, as the concentration varies depending on geographic location. For this reason, additional fluoride is added to some of the areas where it is naturally low. According to gov.co.uk, 10% of England’s population currently have a fluoridated water supply. The Oral Health Foundation also stated that children living in poorer areas where the water supplies are not fluoridated can have 5 times more decay than children living in fluoridated areas, and that research suggests that adding fluoride to the water supply is the best way to reduce these ‘dental inequalities’.

What are the issues?

There are two main arguments when it comes to national water fluoridation. Firstly, fluoride can be toxic in large doses, and secondly, the public would not be able to choose whether or not they receive artificial fluoridation.

The toxic dose of fluoride, however, is 5mg/kg – there is 1mg of fluoride in a litre of water, so the average child would have to drink 90 litres of water in order to overdose on fluoride. Dentistry’s article puts this into perspective by reminding us that adults should consume 2 litres a day.

Fluoride is also included in most oral hygiene products because of its dental benefits – for this reason, parents or guardians should supervise their child’s brushing up until they are seven to make sure they are not swallowing dental products and therefore ingesting too much fluoride.

However, scientific conclusion is that fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated water with the right concentration of fluoride are safe, help to reduce decay and are not harmful to our general health.

Child tooth decay – how can it help?

The most important benefit of national water fluoridation is the ability to help reduce child tooth decay. Dentistry note in their article that just over one in 10 three-year-olds have tooth decay nationwide, and in certain parts of the country this figure rises to over one in four. Exposure to fluoride – whether it is in toothpaste or water – means that the tooth enamel is strengthened and the amount of acid produced by the bacteria on your teeth is reduced.

For more information on the arguments for and against national water fluoridation, or for more about fluoride and its dental benefits, visit the helpful links below:

Dentistry

Oral Health Foundation

Gov

Nature