A Brief History and Role of Fluoride in Dental Health

Fluoride

You hear it all the time: “brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day”. If you’re serious about your dental hygiene, this may have even become somewhat of a prayer or mantra of yours.

However, have you ever wondered about the role of fluoride in dental health? Have you ever done your research on fluoride and its role in the world of dentistry?
If not, here’s your chance:

The origins

Fluoride research started over a hundred years ago, in 1901, when Frederick McKay, a young dental school graduate opened his practice in Colorado, where he was astounded to find scores of Colorado Springs natives with severely brown-stained teeth. McKay couldn’t find anything in the dental literature about the condition so he decided to do his own research and crack this conundrum for himself.

His first breakthrough in this area came around 1909 when the renowned dental researcher Dr. G.V. Black agreed to come to Colorado Springs and collaborate with him. When Black arrived, he was also shocked by the Colorado Brown Stain phenomenon.

During the two professionals fruitful collaboration they’ve made two crucial discoveries: First, the mottled enamel  (as Black referred to it, otherwise called fluorosis ) resulted from developmental imperfections in children’s teeth. This meant that those city residents whose permanent teeth had calcified without developing stains had no risk of their teeth turning brown while young children waiting for their secondary teeth to erupt were at high risk. Second, they found that locals were surprisingly resistant to tooth decay.

man wearing glasses, mask and gloves holding  retortEven back then, McKay had a theory that – as residents also suggested – there might be something in the water supply that causes the condition.
It took McKay nearly 30 years but in 1931 – after examining similar symptoms in cities around the Rocky Mountains and after receiving help from other professionals who examined water samples from these areas, he had the confirmation he was looking for: high levels of water-borne fluoride caused the discoloration of tooth enamel.

Fluoride & the questions it raised

While the mystery was cracked, water-borne fluoride raised a lot of new questions in the field of dentistry, especially on its effects on tooth enamel.

Dr. H. Trendley Dean, head of the Dental Hygiene Unit at the NIH begin investigating the epidemiology of fluorosis and discovered that low levels of fluoride in drinking water (up to 1.0 ppm) did not cause enamel fluorosis in most people and it has only a mild effect on enamel in a small percentage of people.

Dean also recalled that mottled tooth enamel is usually resistant to decay which made him wonder that whether adding safe amounts of fluoride to drinking water would help to fight tooth decay. Dean tested his hypotheses in 1944 when the city of Grand Rapids approved of fluoridating its drinking water. After just 11 years, an amazing finding was made: The caries rate among the cities children born after fluoridation dropped by more than 60 percent. This breakthrough promised to revolutionize dental care by making tooth decay a preventable disease for most people for the first time in history.

Fluoride & dentistry today

After the important findings in Grand Rapids, to this day, fluoride continues to play a major role in preventative dentistry. Today, just about every toothpaste on the market contains fluoride as an active decay-fighting agent, water fluoridation projects currently benefit over 200 million Americans while there are around 13 million schoolchildren who participate in school-based fluoride mouth rinse programs.

Thanks to McKay, Dean, and others, dentistry has transformed into a prevention-oriented profession.

Quite fascinating, isn’t it? We honestly hope you enjoyed our blog on the history of fluoride and its role in dentistry. If you have additional questions or concerns, please, give Doral Sedation & Family Dentistry a call so we can assist you. Until then, make sure to smile as much as you can.

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