While my mouth is full of equipment, my dentist always checks-in with, "You're using fluoride products, right?" I respond with a shrug while trying not to spit or choke.
Admittedly, I don't seek out fluoride — it's coincidentally in some of the dental products I habitually use. Am I consuming too little or too much? I have no idea — honestly, I'm not even sure of what fluoride is all about.
I have Dr. Shruti Shah, DMD, of ProHEALTH Dental, to thank for breaking things down for me: "Fluoride is a mineral that has cavity-fighting and cavity-prevention properties. Trace amounts of fluoride can be naturally found in water, food, soil, and plants. It's most commonly consumed by drinking fluoridated water, having food and drinks that are made with fluoridated water, and using toothpaste and other dental products."
Dr. Shah explains that your teeth's enamel loses and gains minerals daily — plaque, bacteria, and sugar in the mouth attack the enamel while food and water containing minerals like calcium, fluoride, and phosphate replenish your teeth. When demineralization exceeds remineralization and the enamel layer isn't sufficiently repaired, tooth decay occurs, she adds.
If you want to rebuild weakened tooth enamel, reverse the progression of early or existing cavities, prevent tooth decay, prevent the growth of harmful oral bacteria, or reduce hypersensitivity, Dr. Shah says that fluoride might help.
Suffering from dry mouth (or a condition that causes dry mouth!) could make you more susceptible to developing dental cavities, in which case, your dentist might up your fluoride intake — especially if you're dealing with tooth sensitivity, she adds.
"The safest and easiest way to consume fluoride is simply by drinking water in fluoridated communities. According to the CDC, drinking fluoridated water reduces tooth decay rate by 25 percent."
Depending on your age and oral health, your dentist might recommend you use additional products like fluoride-infused toothpaste, mouthwashes, and beverages processed with fluoridated water, and dietary supplements containing prescription-level fluorides, Dr. Shah says.
Seeking advice from your dentist on fluoride intake is important because there is such a thing as overdoing it — especially amongst children. Dr. Shah explains that if a kid (especially under the age of six-years-old!) consumes too much fluoride, hazardous fluoride toxicity can occur.
"If enamel discoloration (dental fluorosis) occurs from overuse of fluoride (in young children), the amount of fluoride used topically should be reduced to the recommended levels based on age. Fluoride hypersensitivity or toxicity from the overuse of fluoride may indicate a need to lower usage of topical and/or systemic fluoride."