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In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city to supplement their community water supply with fluoride. Since then, nearly 75% of U.S. public water systems have fluoride added to them. This has been lauded as a successful public health endeavor, but you may wonder what fluoride is exactly and what it does.

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally found in water and some foods. Despite its natural occurrence, its amounts vary; this is why we have water fluoridation. What fluoride does is fight against tooth decay.

How Does Fluoride Help Teeth?

A nickname of fluoride is “nature’s cavity fighter,” but how does fluoride fight cavities?

  • Remineralization: The acids formed by sugar and plaque cause tooth decay. But fluoride, calcium, and phosphate work to remineralize tooth enamel.
  • Strengthens Teeth: Not only does fluoride remineralize tooth enamel, but fluoride makes it stronger and more resistant against acids.
  • Reverses Decay: Fluoride can actually repair teeth that are in the early stages of tooth decay.
  • Develops Teeth: Even before permanent teeth erupt, fluoride helps in the development of their enamel.

Is Fluoride Dangerous?

Anything taken in excess can be toxic for the body. However, with most home-based fluoride toothpastes and products, it is very difficult to reach a dangerous level through consumption. Fluoride has also been known to cause fluorosis (white streaks/specks on tooth enamel), but most of these cases happen when fluoride naturally occurs in water, such as in a well.

Overall, fluoride is great for dental health. Water fluoridation has reduced tooth decay by 25% and been named by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) as one of the top ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.