Fluoridation – fluoride is a naturally occurring element that enhances a tooth’s ability to retain hardening minerals such as calcium. US federal regulations began requiring communities to add fluoride to their water supplies, when naturally occurring levels of fluoride fall below 0.7 parts per million (ppm), in 1945 as a means of reducing DENTAL CARIES (cavities). Fluoride offers the greatest protection when it is in the bloodstream as the TEETH are forming, so it becomes part of the enamel. Even after the teeth have fully developed, fluoride continues to interact with the enamel through its presence in the saliva. Dentists also may apply topical fluoride to the surfaces of the teeth for added protection.
The American Dental Association and numerous other health organizations advocate fluoridation, though some groups question the safety of the practice. In the decades since fluoridation became public policy, numerous claims about adverse health effects have surfaced. Investigations of those concerns have failed to produce conclusive evidence to validate them, when fluoride levels are within the established therapeutic ranges. Excessive fluoride consumption can cause dental fluoridosis, in which dark stains appear on the teeth. Though harmless, the tooth stains are permanent. Children should use fluoridated toothpaste in small amounts and with close parental supervision.
See also ORAL HYGIENE.