Home Dental Care Fluoride in Toothpaste: Is it Harmful?

Fluoride in Toothpaste: Is it Harmful?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 309 views

Most toothpastes are enriched with fluoride – according to experts, the reason for the significant decline in tooth decay in western countries. However, skeptics believe that fluoride in toothpaste is toxic and can make you seriously ill. Read here what fluoride is, how it works and whether toothpaste containing fluoride is actually dangerous.

Why does toothpaste contain fluoride?

Fluoride is a chemical compound based on fluorine. The gas fluorine rarely occurs in its pure form, but combines immediately with other chemical substances. This creates various compounds, including, for example, sodium fluoride.

As a natural component of our body, fluoride plays a central role in building and maintaining bones and teeth. It has also been known since the middle of the 19th century that the trace element prevents tooth decay. This caries prophylactic effect has been scientifically substantiated by numerous studies over the past decades.

The trace element fluorine acts in different ways against the caries bacteria in the mouth and the acid they produce:

  • It accelerates the incorporation of calcium phosphate from saliva into tooth enamel. This gives the caries bacteria less time to further hollow out porous areas in the tooth enamel.
  • It is also stored in the enamel itself, where it helps to neutralize the harmful acid.
  • Fluoride, which is applied directly to the teeth with toothpaste or varnish, forms a kind of protective layer around the tooth enamel. In this way, the acid does not get into the tooth enamel, but is already neutralized on the surface. The enamel minerals stay in place and the enamel stays strong.
  • The trace element penetrates the caries bacteria and disrupts their metabolism so that they produce less acid.
  • A laboratory study has also shown that fluoride makes teeth smoother, making it harder for bacteria to adhere to them. However, this mode of action still has to be confirmed by practical tests in the oral cavity.

Is fluoride harmful?

As with many medical issues, the issue of fluoride also depends on the dosage . Too much of the substance can have undesirable effects:

  • Fluorosis: Anyone who regularly ingests too much fluoride can develop whitish stains on their teeth over time. In extreme cases, teeth can turn yellowish-brown.
  • Bone damage: If you regularly consume far too high amounts of fluoride for decades, your bones can suffer.
  • Acute fluoride poisoning: It is rare but can occur when young children ingest very large amounts of fluoride (about the contents of a tube of fluoridated toothpaste) unsupervised. Symptoms include nausea , vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and hyperactivity.

Especially in Germany, however, it is almost impossible to take in too much of the trace element. Germany is considered a fluoride deficiency area: unlike in many other countries, German drinking water does not contain any fluoride.

The daily requirement for tooth decay prevention (per kilogram of body weight 3.1 mg for women and 3.8 mg for men) can hardly be covered by our food either. After all, the trace element is hardly found except in black tea – and this also contains only very small amounts of fluoride.

So it’s no wonder that the average fluoride intake of an adult in this country is only 0.4 to 0.6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day – far too little to effectively prevent tooth decay. Scientists therefore recommend covering the demand with products to which fluoride has been added.

Fluoridated table salt, for example, has been available in supermarkets for years. Other sources include fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwashes, gels and varnishes from dentists, and fluoride tablets for infants and young children who have yet to have baby teeth.

The risk of an overdose is very small even if you use artificially fluoridated products. For this you would have to take in five milligrams of fluoride per kilogram of body weight every day. That is roughly equivalent to the amount of three tubes of fluoridated toothpaste or 1.1 kilograms of fluoridated table salt.

Is fluoride toxic?

Pure fluorine is highly toxic. However, it does not occur in its pure form, but always in combination with other chemical elements such as sodium or calcium, from which fluoride is formed – a trace element that is also a natural part of the human body. For effective tooth decay prevention, experts recommend regular intake of fluoride. According to the current state of knowledge, this is not dangerous.

Dentists recommend fluoridated toothpaste

Dental institutions such as the German Dental Association and the German Society for Dental, Oral and Maxillofacial Medicine expressly recommend using toothpaste enriched with fluoride in their guidelines and patient information. This is the only way to optimally protect the teeth against tooth decay.

Fluoridated salt alone is not sufficient for caries prophylaxis, since the amount of fluoride absorbed is too small. The fluoride works best when it’s in prolonged direct contact with the teeth, such as when using fluoride toothpaste.

How to Use Fluoride Toothpaste: Adults & Children

Adults and elementary school children with their first permanent teeth should brush their teeth with a toothpaste containing 1000 to 1500 ppm (parts per million) fluoride, according to official dental board recommendations.

Smaller children whose milk teeth have already erupted should be brushed with a lower dose of toothpaste. This should contain a maximum of 500 ppm fluoride. For infants and young children who do not yet have milk teeth, dentists recommend administering fluoride in tablet form. In this way, the body’s own fluoride depot can be increased even before the milk teeth erupt.

Do not use both fluoridated toothpaste and fluoride, just one or the other. Otherwise, excess fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis.

It is also recommended not to rinse the toothpaste completely with water after brushing, but only to spit it out. Fluoride remains in the mouth and can have a lasting effect there.

Fluoride-free toothpaste is not optimal protection against tooth decay

Toothpaste without fluoride relies exclusively on the mechanical effect of the contained cleaning particles for tooth decay prevention. These remove the bacterial plaque while brushing, but have no enamel-hardening effect like other toothpastes – fluoride makes the decisive difference here with regard to optimal caries prevention. The same applies to natural products such as whitewash , which also do not contain fluoride.

This is how tooth decay occurs!

Certain bacteria in the mouth cause tooth decay. These microorganisms feed on sugar and convert it into acid. In order to neutralize this acid, minerals such as calcium and phosphorus dissolve from the tooth enamel (demineralization) until the acid level in the oral cavity is balanced again. The missing minerals in the tooth enamel are replaced by the saliva: the calcium phosphate it contains is built into the tooth enamel and makes it firm again (remineralization).

However, this natural process is disrupted if too much or too much acid is produced in the mouth. This happens, for example, when you frequently consume sweets. Then the saliva is no longer able to compensate for the loss of minerals – the enamel becomes increasingly porous and tooth decay develops.

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