There has been much debate over the years on whether your toothpaste needs fluoride or not. The Sri Lanka Dental Association (SLDA), the apex body for dental health practitioners in the country whose members have been working tirelessly on protecting the Sri Lankan smile for over 83 years, has stepped into offer some clarity on this matter.

To begin with, it is important to understand what fluoride is and what role it actually plays in oral hygiene. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that disrupts the process of tooth decay. Studies have shown that fluoride is able to do this by making enamel more resistant to acid attack and reducing acid creation by plaque bacteria. It works to prevent tooth decay by strengthening the enamel which covers the tooth thus making it less susceptible to cavity-forming acids and helps to stop the further progress of decay during the early stages of a cavity.

“A tooth may begin to decay for various reasons, but when you use a toothpaste with fluoride it will slowly roll back that decay if it is in the initial stages. It will form a hard barrier around the cavity and not let the germs penetrate any further while it repairs that initial stage of decay,” said Dr. A Sundar, General Secretary, Sri Lanka Dental Association (SLDA). “And if you don’t close that cavity the tooth will continue to decay further and result in various other complications. Fluoride also plays a preventative role, strengthening the enamel of the tooth to help prevent it from decaying.”

In fact studies of fluoride being effective in cavity prevention have been so positive that the WHO included it as part of their policy in 1994.The WHO Technical Report Series No. 846 on Fluorides and oral health (1994) states, “One of WHO’s policies is to support the widespread use of affordable fluoridated toothpaste in developing countries. This is particularly important in light of the changing diet and nutrition status in these countries. Recent local studies have shown that affordable fluoridated toothpaste is effective in cavity prevention and should be made available for use by health authorities in developing countries.”

And while it is a naturally occurring mineral, found in trace amounts in water in certain regions, we need to brush teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste to receive the ideal amount and concentration of fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.“There is a prevailing misconception that the naturally occurring fluoride in the water we intake is sufficient to protect one’s teeth from cavity-causing germs. However, the concentration levels of fluoride in water is insignificant and cannot serve as a substitute for regular use of fluoridated toothpaste,” added Dr. Sundar.