All Your Fluoride Concerns and Questions Answered

By Bridget M. Burns in Natural Products

You've made the decision to switch your family from a conventional toothpaste brand to a toothpaste made with naturally derived ingredients. But now you're faced with another decision. While almost all conventional toothpastes contain fluoride, the natural toothpaste aisle is often equally split between fluoride and fluoride-free toothpastes. So, where do fluoride concerns come from, and which option is best for you and your family?

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a trace mineral found in both fresh water and sea water. It is also found in some foods, as well as the bones in our bodies. In its free elemental form, it's called fluorine, but in nature, it's only found in compound forms. This includes fluorspar, also known as calcium fluoride, which can be found in soil and rock.

Fluoride's anticavity benefit was actually discovered on accident. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Dr. Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs in 1901 to open his own dental practice and was surprised to find the native residents' teeth covered in permanent, dark stains. While not cosmetically attractive, McKay also noted that the blotted teeth were resistant to tooth decay. He then spent the next three decades researching what he dubbed the Colorado Brown Stain.

Finally, in 1931, water testing of municipal supplies where the staining had been observed revealed a high concentration of fluoride. McKay eventually discovered that a certain level of fluoride in water could deliver an anticavity benefit—without staining. That discovery and the continued use of fluoride in various applications turned dentistry into a preventative practice.

Fluoride toothpaste and Fluoride-free toothpaste in store

Fluoride in Natural Toothpaste

You may wonder what qualifies a toothpaste as natural. Though there is no legal definition at this time, there are many commonalities among brands that use this label. Tom's of Maine defines natural through its Stewardship Model, which outlines the company's standards for natural, sustainable, and responsible. One of these standards supporting natural is that all ingredients must be sourced and derived from nature.

On a toothpaste label, you may see fluoride in the ingredients list in the form of sodium fluoride, sodium monofluorophosphate, or stannous fluoride. These are the three ingredients currently included in the Food and Drug Administration monograph for any product that claims to prevent cavities.

Some Tom's of Maine natural toothpastes contain sodium fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate for cavity protection, while others are fluoride-free. These fluoride compounds are derived from fluorspar, which undergoes processing to create the ingredient found in toothpaste formulas. Tom's of Maine ensures this ingredient processing is aligned with the company's overall values.

Where Do Fluoride Concerns Come From?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), fluoride is nature's cavity fighter. By using a fluoride toothpaste, you can remineralize weakened tooth enamel and help to reverse early signs of tooth decay. By strengthening your enamel, you can also help to protect your teeth from future acid attacks that cause cavities.

For many consumers, personal opinion comes into play when deciding between natural toothpaste varieties. Despite drinking water being the original vehicle for fluoride in cavity prevention, it remains one of the most controversial. This is due to resistance from consumers who feel the choice to include fluoride in their drinking water was made without their consent. These consumers may also choose to avoid fluoride in toothpaste.

Dental health is a big factor in the decision between anticavity toothpaste and fluoride-free varieties. The fact is, some people are simply more prone to tooth decay than others. But while fluoride has proven to help with cavity prevention, it's still possible to keep your teeth clean, reduce plaque buildup, and even whiten your smile without the use of fluoride. If you aren't concerned about cavities, you may find that fluoride-free toothpaste can deliver all the benefits you desire. You can also speak with your dentist to discuss any concerns you have about choosing between fluoride and fluoride-free toothpaste.

Fluoride Safety Considerations for Kids

When it comes to kids, preventing tooth decay is especially important. This is because childhood tooth decay can cause many issues beyond cosmetic changes to their smile. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if baby teeth are lost too early due to decay, the remaining teeth may shift, causing issues later on when adult teeth come in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that childhood tooth decay can also cause issues with eating and learning to speak. Not only that, but the pain caused by tooth decay can make it difficult for children to concentrate in school.

Preventing childhood tooth decay

Think about your child's age and developmental ability when deciding between fluoride and fluoride-free toothpaste. If your child tends to swallow toothpaste, you may want to consider the amount of fluoride in your chosen formula. While the short-term effects of swallowing too much toothpaste may be little more than a stomachache, over consumption of fluoride before age eight could result in dental fluorosis. According to the ADA, fluorosis is the appearance of faint white lines on the teeth caused by excessive fluoride ingestion while the teeth are still developing.

For this reason, the ADA recommends using no more than a smear of fluoride toothpaste, close in size to a grain of rice, for children under age three. For ages three to six, the ADA recommends a pea-sized amount. If you are concerned about using fluoride toothpaste with your child while they are young, speak with your pediatric dentist about your options for protecting their teeth. Other tips to keep your little one's mouth healthy include being consistent with their brushing routine, fostering independence, and leading with confidence.

Does your family use fluoride toothpaste, fluoride-free toothpaste, or a mixture of both? Show us your brushing routine by tagging @toms_of_maine on Instagram!

Image Sources: Pexels | Bridget M. Burns | Bridget M. Burns

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Fluoride has a long history of safe use as an anticavity ingredient, but it's also sometimes the center of controversy. By educating yourself on where this ingredient comes from and how it is currently used, you can decide if fluoride toothpaste is the right choice for your family.