Fluoride is not necessarily considered to be an essential mineral since it is not required in sustaining life. However, it is beneficial in maintaining dental health as it prevents the development of tooth decay in children and in adults. Fluoride, mainly found in teeth and bones, protects the teeth from decay by supporting the mineralization of enamel and by suppressing the metabolism of plaque bacteria therefore inhibiting acid production.
The usual source of fluoride is drinking water as most foods have very low fluoride content. Other sources of fluoride are from tea leaves and fish such as sardines, salmon, cod, mackerel, and shrimp. Bone chicken, canned meats such as corned beef and sausages, and infant foods are also fortified with fluoride. When there is an insufficient amount of fluoride in the body, the teeth are highly susceptible to decay. In some cases, fluoride concentration in water is raised to help prevent dental decay especially in children. This process is called “fluoridation”. It is considered a safe and cost-effective way of reducing dental caries. Fluoride is very important during formation of teeth in childhood as it will provide protection against tooth decay for a long period of time. Fluoridation has been approved by major dental and medical associations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Dental Health and the American Medical Association.
When the water contains too much fluoride a condition called fluoridosis may occur. This is characterized by an irreversible discoloration of the teeth and occurs only during development of the teeth, rarely after formation. Use of some fluoridated toothpastes, mouthwash and supplements has also increased the occurrence of fluoridosis. To avoid developing this condition people who drink fluoridated water should eliminate other sources of fluoride such as fluoride supplements unless prescribed. For children, fluoridosis can be prevented by limiting the amount of toothpaste to a very small quantity and to teach them not to swallow the toothpaste.
Fluoride products must be stored securely to avoid poisoning especially in children. Other symptoms involved in fluoride toxicity are nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, itching, chest pain, weakness and excessive sweating.
Dr. James E. Carlson B.S.,D.O.,M.B.A.,J.D.
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