Fluoride is a mineral that is occurs in nature and can be found in most water sources. A huge body of research shows that it is very effective in preventing cavities in adults and children and that it is effective in remineralizing (repairing) teeth that show early stages of decay. A similarly large body of research also shows that fluoride is very safe if used in appropriate quantities.
Topical Fluoride Application
There are two ways that fluoride can help strengthen your teeth and fight against cavities. The first is placing fluoride directly on your teeth in a topical application. To a small degree, you do this every time you brush your teeth with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Toothpastes available over-the-counter contain a small amount of fluoride, but special rinses and pastes with higher fluoride content may be prescribed by your dentist as well. After a thorough teeth cleaning by a hygienist every six months, fluoride varnish can also be applied to teeth for a maximum topical fluoride benefit. Topical fluoride helps strengthen teeth against decay and also provides a desensitizing effect for those with sensitive teeth.
Fluoride benefits can also be attained through systemic intake. While most areas of the United States have fluoridated water provided through their public water supply, most of Utah, including Utah county does not. Fluoride tablets can be ingested daily to provide the similar benefits to fluoridated water, but one has to be diligent in obtaining a prescription and consistently taking tablets every day in order for this method to be effective. Systemic fluoride is especially important to children and teenagers because it strengthens the teeth while they are forming under the gums and makes them better able to resist decay when erupt (come through the gums).
Studies have shown that the maximum benefit to teeth occurs when fluoride is administered both topically and systemically. Drinking fluoridated water is especially beneficial because it becomes part of your saliva and becomes a constant means of bathing teeth in fluoride--which in turn promotes constant repair of tooth enamel and protection against decay-causing microbes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called community water fluoridation "one of 10 great public health achievements." Water fluoridation has been shown to prevent 25% of decay in adults and children.
Fluoride in Utah
Unfortunately, due to political issues (a very vocal and crazy minority overpowering the sane majority) in Utah, our state has not yet started a water fluoridation program. Opponents of fluoride cite individual freedom, lack of need, water purity, environmental concerns, toxicity, and taste perversion of water as reasons not to fluoridate the community water supply. Each of these reasons is based on unsubstantiated fears, lack of understanding, and outright bad science, yet our state continues to struggle to put in place a program that would save a huge amount of money for Utah residents and prevent painful experiences for most children and adults. Until water fluoridation happens in Utah, other sources of fluoride, especially fluoride tablets (for children and teens), and office fluoride varnish application (for everyone) are strongly recommended to pick up the slack