How Fluoride Fights Cavities

dentist checking female's teeth

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children in the U.S. It’s caused when foods with carbohydrates, like fruit, soda or candy, stay on your teeth. These turn into acids and cause plaque. Plaque dissolves the enamel or the outer coating of teeth and creates holes called cavities.

Because not everyone can afford regular dental checkups, community and city authorities started fluoridating the water supply.

Fluoride in drinking water

Water fluoridation started in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1945. This was after Dr. H. Trendly, Dean of the National Institute of Health hypothesized that a fluoride level of up to 1.0 ppm in drinking water does not cause tooth discoloration, but makes teeth resistant to decay, instead.

According to Water Fluoridation for Healthy Communities, water fluoridation is the most cost-effective dental health measure. Living in a city with fluoridated water ensures that everyone, no matter their economic background, has access to good oral health.

How fluoride works

Fluoride prevents tooth decay in three ways:

First, fluoride promotes tooth remineralization. Fluoride deposits minerals back onto tooth areas where decay formation has occurred. It then attracts other minerals like calcium to the damaged area and speeds up the remineralization process.

Aside from this, fluoride helps create a tooth surface that’s more resistant to decay. During the first process, another mineral called fluorapatite forms. Fluorapatite can withstand a more acidic environment. It’s also more resistant to damage caused by bacterial acids.

Lastly, fluoride helps combat bacteria that cause tooth decay. Studies have shown that fluoride in water or toothpaste inhibits the metabolism, growth, and multiplication of the kinds of bacteria that cause cavities.

The Center for Disease Control named water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. What started as a cause of tooth discoloration is now a health benefit that 75% of Americans enjoy.