Fluoride and particularly water fluoridation where the chemical fluoride is added to water supplies seems to be a frightening prospect for some. However, the vast majority of dentists, and the Ministry of Health agree that fluoride is a very valuable tool in promoting oral health.
Fluoride strengthens your teeth by preventing demineralisation of the surface of teeth. Essentially,demineralisation is where a biofilm called ‘plaque’ occurs and creates acid which removes calcium from the tooth. This process if left unchecked leads to cavities. Fluoride helps by adding strength to tooth enamel which makes it more difficult for the tooth to be demineralised. Furthermore, studies have shown that fluoride actually can contribute to remineralisation of teeth, or the reattachment of minerals from enamel.
The Ministry of Health has conducted a number of studies of fluoride and its effect on oral health. The general findings of those studies are that people that live in fluoridated areas have generally less tooth decay than those not in fluoridated areas. Furthermore, it has been found that fluoride can have substantial benefits for the oral health of children. For instance, the Ministry of Health has found that 5 year olds living in fluoridated areas had 30% less decay than those living in other areas.
The main concern present in criticisms of fluoride use and fluoridation is that over exposure can lead to enamel fluorosis. This is a developmental condition of tooth enamel and in most cases simply results in white streaks appearing on the teeth. However, this condition only occurs upon overexposure to fluoride. In a very carefully controlled system of fluoridation, like the one practiced here in New Zealand, the likelihood of that occurring is very low.
Therefore, due to the low risks and very substantial benefits you can find fluoride in most toothpastes, mouthwashes and also in very small, controlled amounts in water supplies around New Zealand.
For more information, including the actual research papers referred to in this post, please see: http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/preventative-health-wellness/fluoridation