The fluoride ion comes from the element fluorine. Fluoride, either applied topically to erupted teeth, or ingested orally (called systemic fluoride) during tooth development, helps to prevent tooth decay, strengthen tooth enamel, and reduce the harmful effects of plaque. Fluoride also makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is even visible.
Once ingested, systemic fluoride is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract and distributed and deposited throughout the body via the blood supply.
In general, fluoride consumption is safe. Health risks associated with fluoridation are usually limited to misuse and over concentration. To avoid misuse and over concentration:
- Avoid drinking overly fluoridated water - results of this may cause teeth to become discolored, and may cause the enamel of the teeth to look spotted, pitted, or stained (a condition known as dental fluorosis).
- Avoid swallowing toothpaste and other dental hygiene products.
- Call the local water department and/or the health department to evaluate the fluoride level in your local drinking reservoir.
Children are especially vulnerable to dental fluorosis as their developing teeth are more sensitive to higher fluoride levels. Dental fluorosis is not a disease, but rather how the teeth appear. The American Dental Association defines mild enamel fluorosis as barely noticeable, faint, white lines or streaks on tooth enamel. The discoloration does not affect the teeth's health or function. Fluorosis only occurs in developing teeth, not those that have already erupted. Consult a pediatric dentist or other oral health care professional if you notice changes in the condition of your child's teeth.