child drinking water with fluoride to supplement pediatric dentist treatment

There’s Something in the Water: Learning about Flouride

Perhaps you recall the days when your elementary school provided fluoride for all the kids in your class. They would pull you out in groups and take you to one of the bathrooms. Outside the door would be a table where they would distribute small paper cups with some sort of medicinal substance inside — sometimes tasteless, other times attempting a flavor like bubblegum or watermelon — that you were to swish around your teeth before spitting out. 

For many, that occasionally recurring experience marks their first understanding of fluoride, and while they know that dentists use it or that it’s found in their toothpaste, the actual properties of the stuff remain a mystery.  

All Natural

For parents looking to boost their children’s dental care in Utah, fluoride is one of the most effective and cost-efficient methods available. As mentioned above, it is used as regularly in the school as it is in pediatric dentistry and special fluoride-infused toothpaste can be purchased for both kids and adults. What most people don’t know, however, is just how often they come into contact with fluoride without even knowing it. This is because fluoride is a naturally occurring substance. 

Discovery and Adoption

Kids’ tooth care (and adults’, too, for that matter) was changed forever with the addition of fluoride to the country’s greater hygiene routine. But where did it actually come from? Here are some quick facts about it:

  • Fluoride is an ionized derivative of fluorine, a chemical element found on the periodic table (identified as F, atomic number 9). 
  • It is classified as the 13th most abundant mineral on earth, appearing in the crust of the earth as well as in natural water and food sources.
  • While high amounts of concentrated fluoride can be dangerous (creating a condition known as fluorosis), people can ingest over 1000 parts per million without any adverse side effects.

The story of fluoride’s discovery and use is an interesting one. At the turn of the 20th Century, dentist Frederick McKay chose to open his first new practice in Colorado Springs, CO., and was shocked to discover that everyone in town had horribly stained teeth. The dental care for children was as bad as the adults, each sporting teeth that at times looked like the people had eaten a large amount of chocolate and hadn’t brushed.

After doing some digging into the “Colorado Brown Stain” with a research assistant, McKay soon discovered similar situations in Idaho and elsewhere along the Rocky Mountains. Many theories were offered as to why this was happening and the only link McKay could find had to do with the water the residents of these towns was drinking.

Science to the Rescue

With the help of some chemists in Pennsylvania who volunteered to take a deeper look at the chemical makeup of the water samples pulled from the affected areas, a high concentration of fluoride was discovered in each. This led to a few more important discoveries:

  • These people’s teeth, stained as they were, were incredibly resistant to cavities.
  • If the children’s teeth could calcify before large amounts of fluoride were ingested, they would remain strong without suffering from the “Colorado Brown Stain.”
  • Introducing fluoride at safe levels would preserve the health of the mouth and the white aesthetic of the teeth.

With the data in hand, the government agreed to a trial run of fluoridated water in Grand Rapids, MI to see its effect on the residents’ oral hygiene. Within 11 years, the caries rate (the rate at which a person develops cavities) dropped over 60%. Now, hundreds of millions of people drink fluoridated water, improving children’s dental care in Utah and all across the country.

A Pediatric Dentistry’s Best Friend

It is not hyperbolic to state that fluoride has transformed not only the general oral health of the world but the industry of dentistry as a whole. Tooth decay remains the most common disease in the world but with the help of fluoride, dentists are now no longer solely in the business of repairing and coping but of preventing. 

So great is its influence in fact, that it has been ranked among the top 10 greatest medical advancements of the century by the Center for Disease Control. See the rest of the list here.

If you want to learn more about how fluoride can help your children’s dental care, our Utah-based practice would love to meet with you and your kids and get them started on the right foot. Drop by and see us today.


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