The addition of fluoride to the public water supply during the 1940s has been heralded as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, helping to prevent cavities in both children and adults. However, the amount of fluoride that is necessary in drinking water has come under debate, and for the first time since 1962, federal health officials have changed the recommended amount of fluoride that is optimal for preventing tooth decay.
The new recommendations by the Department of Health and Human Services lower the levels of fluoride from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water to 0.7 milligrams per liter. The change was recommended because Americans now have access to more sources of fluoride (such as toothpastes and mouthwash) than they did when fluoridation was first introduced. (According to an article in the Winston-Salem Journal, officials in Forsyth County try to keep the fluoride level at about 0.9 milligrams per liter in drinking water.)
When a person is exposed to too much fluoride during the first eight years of life, it can actually cause a condition called “fluorosis.” The condition is a cosmetic one that usually causes white marks on a person’s teeth, but can also cause stains ranging from yellow to dark brown, as well as surface irregularities and pits in the most severe cases. Some cases look like roasted marshmallows (bright white teeth underneath showing through, but some tan and brown stains mottling the white color).
Thus, the new guidelines are good and show that science is keeping up with what dentists are seeing in their practices. If a patient has fluorosis, there are some therapies that can work to restore the color of the teeth:
- A re-mineralization therapy that works to “lift out” or buff out some of the discolorations
- Teeth whitening
- Bonding to coat the tooth with a hard resin that bonds to the enamel
- Crowns or veneers
If you have problems with fluorosis or other stains on your teeth, you do not have to live with it. Your dentist can help. For more information, contact Enlighten Dental Care at (336) 765-0904.