Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral widely recognised for its significance in maintaining dental health. The history of its use as a supplement dates back to the early 20th century when Frederick McKay, a US dentist, noticed a correlation between fluoride in drinking water and reduced dental cavities.
Following further studies, in the 1940s, several American towns started the practice of water fluoridation, which marked the dawn of fluoride supplementation. The use of fluoride was quickly adopted in many countries across the globe, including the UK.
Scientific Make-up of Fluoride
Fluoride is the anionic form of fluorine, the 13th most abundant element on earth. It is a halogen and falls under group 17 on the periodic table. Fluoride is released from the earth’s crust into soil, water, and air.
It’s usually found in combination with other elements as a fluoride compound. Notably, fluoride has the unique ability to replace hydroxyl ions in hydroxyapatite, the principal mineral component in teeth and bones, forming a more acid-resistant material, fluorapatite. This characteristic forms the basis of fluoride’s role in dental health.
Benefits of Fluoride
Fluoride is renowned primarily for its role in promoting oral health. By enhancing the tooth enamel’s resistance to the acid attacks that cause tooth decay, it helps prevent cavities. It also supports remineralisation, a natural repair process for non-cavitated tooth lesions. Studies have consistently shown the efficacy of fluoride in caries prevention, with a Cochrane review demonstrating its positive impact even in individuals with a low risk of cavities.
Additionally, fluoride might play a role in bone health. Preliminary studies suggest that high doses could increase bone density, but more research is needed to establish this link firmly. Moreover, synergistic effects with other minerals such as vitamin D, may enhance the benefits of fluoride in both dental and bone health.
Safety and Dosages of Fluoride
Fluoride safety is highly dose-dependent. The optimal amount for dental health, without causing dental or skeletal fluorosis, is generally set at 0.7 parts per million (ppm) for fluoridated water.
In supplements, fluoride dosage depends on age, ranging from 0.25mg/day for infants to 1.5mg/day for teenagers and adults.
Fluoride Forms and Consumption
Fluoride can be obtained from various sources, including drinking water, certain foods, and dental products.
Dental products like toothpaste and mouthwashes are common sources of topical fluoride. Regular use of fluoride toothpaste is recommended by dental professionals for effective protection against cavities.
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Fluoride can also be obtained systemically, i.e., through the digestive system, via fluoridated water or dietary supplements. However, it’s important to remember that the amount of fluoride in water can vary depending on the location.
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