This is a tough topic to tackle in a short blog, but here goes. Calgary stopped adding fluoride to the water supply in May 2011. However, this is still a very controversial decision. One recent study found that fluoride cessation in Calgary has had a negative impact on children’s dental health. Compared to Edmonton (which still fluoridates their water supply), tooth decay in Calgary has worsened, especially in primary teeth.
Tooth decay is the most common infectious disease in children. The consequences of tooth decay include pain for the child, expense of dental treatments such as extractions and fillings, and the aftermath of pain, which can influence performance at school. Dental concerns are also the leading cause of day surgery for young children in Alberta, and Canada as a whole.
Fluoride works by restoring minerals to tooth surfaces where bacteria may have eroded the enamel. It can also inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria and prevent cavities. Fluoride can be delivered topically and systemically. Topical fluorides strengthen teeth already present in the mouth, making them more decay resistant. Systemic fluorides are ingested and become incorporated into forming tooth structures and provide topical protection, as fluoride is present in saliva (which continually bathes the teeth).
Using fluoride toothpaste is an important way for adults to ensure teeth are reaping the benefits of this dental-friendly mineral. Studies have shown that using fluoride toothpaste helps increase the concentration of fluoride in teeth. Of note, young children tend to swallow toothpaste when they are brushing, which may increase their exposure to fluoride and contribute to dental fluorosis. For this reason, children need to be assisted or supervised when they brush their teeth. Adults need to ensure that an appropriate amount of toothpaste is used, that the child spits out the toothpaste rather than swallows it, and that the teeth are cleaned effectively.
One of the disadvantages of fluoride is a neurotoxin which can be harmful if taken in high doses, as excessive exposure can result in teeth discoloration and bone problems. However, it is my belief that advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Fluoride is a natural product which is generally safe and effective. It reduces tooth decay by 20 – 40 %, which also saves money on dental treatment. In the right amounts, fluoride is a preventative measure and the benefits of added fluoride are widely recognized by many health organizations.
The bottom line is that people have the right to choose whether or not they take medications. Different people need different amounts of substances, like fluoride. Your dentist can assess risk of developing tooth decay and advise you towards an appropriate level of fluoride protection, should you choose.
If you have more questions regarding fluoride, please ask Dr. Goel, Dr. Jost, or your hygienist and they will be happy to address your concerns.
Braeside Dental Centre