Why Tooth Care is So Important Even When They're Healthy

Fluoride: The Game-Changing, Cavity-Fighting Chemical Compound

by Rene Jacobs

Prior to the discoveries of fluoride in the 1900s, about 95% of the population suffered from painful cavities. The addition of fluoride in public water systems and in oral hygiene products has since changed the face of dental health.

What is Fluoride, Anyway?

Fluoride is an abundant, naturally-occurring chemical compound found all across the globe. It has remarkable chemical properties that, when combined with the enamel on your teeth, actually "remineralize" your pearly whites. It helps attract and keep calcium in your teeth so that they remain strong and resistant to tooth decay. Fluoride even stunts the growth of bacteria in your mouth, which, if left unattended, would cause tartar and plaque.

A Life Without Fluoride

Tooth decay is nearly as old as mankind itself. At the turn of the 20th century, a dentist named Frederick McKay made a revolutionary discovery. Colorado residents, who were exposed to water sources high in fluoride, frequently had brown stains and mottling on their teeth. McKay also realized that these residents were significantly less susceptible to tooth decay. 

After some further studies, especially in the 1940s, dental experts began seriously looking at fluoride as a miracle tooth-strengthening chemical compound.

Fluoridation of Water

In 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, made a groundbreaking step: it fluoridated its public water supply. In the decades following, many other American cities followed suit. Today, nearly three out of every four public water systems are fluoridated.

How You Can Benefit From Fluoride

The far-reaching benefits of water fluoridation has changed the oral health of Americans for the better. The impact is so significant that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recognized it as one of the ten most important public achievements of the 1900s.

You may be sabotaging the beneficial effects of fluoride, however. In 2013, over half of Americans reported that they drink bottled water instead of tap water, and another 36% reported drinking bottled water at least once a week. Bottled water does not usually contain fluoride; thus, if you are among the many Americans who choose it over tap water, you may not be getting enough fluoride to protect your teeth.

Admittedly, bottled water often tastes better than tap water, but you need not give up your bottled water habit to reap the benefits of fluoride. Look for a toothpaste that contains fluoride, and brush twice a day. Also, look for a mouthwash that contains fluoride, but do not rinse with it more than once a day, as excessive use can strip your mouth of enamel.