You can’t taste it, but it’s in most toothpaste, mouthwash and quite possibly your drinking water. It’s renowned worldwide for helping prevent cavities, yet it’s surrounded by controversy regarding its safety and effectiveness.
Fluoride has been known to help protect the teeth when used in moderate amounts. The primary benefit of fluoride is that it helps the surface of the tooth resist dental decay. However, new research shows that its function may differ greatly from what scientists originally concluded.
Cavities occur when the teeth begin to soften and decay, rotting away the tooth.
- Sugars from your food get stuck on the surface of your teeth, especially in the crevices between each tooth. Even if you avoid dessert, most food still contains some level of natural sugar, even fruits and vegetables.
- These sugars react with the bacteria in the mouth to produce an acidic substance. Everyone has hundreds to thousands of different bacteria in their mouth, and many are good bacteria. Some are not, however, and those are the ones that cause cavities.
- The acid slowly eats through the enamel coating on the teeth, making it soft. Eventually, the bacteria make it through the protective layer and begin to rot the inside of the tooth. This typically becomes a painful toothache.
Brushing your teeth immediately after eating will help, but most people aren’t in a position to brush their teeth after every meal. Even if you care for your teeth meticulously, however, some people are genetically predisposed to thinner enamel or softer teeth and tend to suffer from more cavities.
Controversy aside, scientists thought that fluoride left a protective coating on the teeth, which would make it more difficult for cavities to start softening the enamel. The enamel is a thin, hard layer on the surface of the tooth that protects the inside of the tooth from damage. Fluoride would turn the enamel’s main mineral, called hydroxyapatite, into a harder mineral called fluorapatite, which is more resistant to decay.
Fluoride Layer Thinner Than Expected
New studies show that this coating might not be as effective as once thought. In fact, it’s probably at least 10 times less effective than scientists originally thought. The fluorapatite layer is only 6 nanometers thick, according to this research, which is about 1/10,000 the width of a human hair. A layer that thin could easily be worn off with normal chewing and would do little to actually protect the teeth, so researchers are now trying to discover the actual function of fluoride.
Despite the controversy, many studies show that people with access to fluoride typically have fewer cavities. Scientists must now determine the exact reason why this occurs, since it appears to differ from the original assumption.
Read more: Medical News Today
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