There’s an epic battle between good and evil raging in your mouth right now, and there’s only one superhero who can save your teeth from cavities. It’s not a bird, and it’s not a plane. It’s fluoride!
Fluoride’s Origin Story
Fluoride hails from the planet Earth. It’s found naturally in rocks, soil and water, but fluoride doesn’t exist on its own. Like so many superheroes, it’s created through a scientific process.
Fluoride is actually a chemical ion of fluorine, one of the top 20 most common elements in the earth’s crust. An ion is a positively- or negatively-charged atom that helps elements combine with one another. When fluorine, which is negatively charged, meets a positively-charged ion like sodium, cavity fighters are born.
When these fluoride compounds are in your mouth, they can actually make your teeth stronger and prevent cavities. They can even reverse early tooth decay.
Fluoride to the Rescue
So how does fluoride fight cavities? To begin, let’s look at what fluoride is working so hard to protect – your teeth.
Tooth enamel is the outer covering of your teeth. It’s stronger than bone and made from calcium and phosphate. Your spit, or saliva, is also loaded with calcium and phosphate and bathes the teeth to keep them strong.
When you eat things like candy, crackers or noodles, cavity-causing bacteria starts feasting on the carbohydrates in these foods. This produces acids that attack your enamel. It causes calcium and phosphate to be stripped from the tooth enamel, leaving you more vulnerable to decay and cavities.
However, saliva disrupts the attack as it coats your teeth and adds back calcium and phosphate to replace what had been stripped away.
Now, here’s where fluoride is the superhero. When your saliva has fluoride in it from sources like toothpaste or water, your teeth are able to take it in. Once in your enamel, fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate there to create the most powerful defense system your teeth can have to prevent cavities from forming: fluoroapatite. It’s much stronger, more resistant to decay and fights to protect your teeth.
How Can I Get Fluoride On My Side?
There are many ways to get fluoride fighting for you. Fluoride is found in community water systems. (Find out if your water supply contains fluoride.) It is also found in some mouth rinses, and your dentist can apply it to your teeth in the dental office.
On the home front, be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that has the ADA Seal. This means that it has been tested and shown to contain the right amount of fluoride to protect your teeth. And be sure to drink water with fluoride. Be aware that not all bottled waters, for example, contain fluoride.
Want to learn more? Get your complete guide to fluoride, water fluoridation and more at ADA.org/fluoride.