Rochester Dentist Explains the History of Fluoride Use

You’ve heard that fluoride is good for you and your teeth, but how were the benefits of fluoride actually discovered and how has that discovery changed the way we live?

The Discovery of Fluoride

In 1909, Dr. Frederick McKay, a dentist working in the Colorado area, discovered that while most of his child patients had brown-stained teeth, those teeth were surprisingly resistant to decay. Commonly referred to as the Colorado Brown Stain, this phenomenon was the result of high levels of exposure to fluoride. Thanks to the studies conducted by Dr. McKay and his fellow researcher, Dr. G.V. Black, we know today that the optimal concentration of fluoride in water is from .7-1.2 ppm. This quantity of exposure to fluoride protects teeth from decay, while minimizing the risk of acquiring the Colorado Brown Stain, formally known as fluorosis.

What Does Fluoride Treatment Do?

In a process called demineralization, harmful bacteria residing in plaque produce acids that dissolve minerals in tooth enamel. Once the plaque has been neutralized by saliva, minerals return to the enamel surface. This is known as remineralization. Fluoride is intimately involved in these processes, and protects teeth in the following ways:

  • Sufficient ingestion of fluoride, as a child, can alter the structure of developing enamel, increasing its resistance to attack by harmful acids. Children who grow up drinking fluoridated water have stronger, more acid-resistant teeth.
  • The presence of fluoride not only encourages the process of remineralization, but ensures that the newly formed enamel crystals are of improved strength and more resistant to acid attack.
  • Fluoride reduces the ability of plaque bacteria to produce acid, minimizing the effects of demineralization. 

Fluoride in the Water

42 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. had publicly fluoridated water as of May 2000. Grand Rapids, Michigan was the first city in the US to fluoridate its drinking water for the purpose of preventing tooth decay. After the U.S. Public Health service declared the fluoridation of drinking water official policy in 1951, the practice increased steadily throughout communities in the U.S. As of 2012, 72 percent of the U.S. population consumes publicly fluoridated water. The CDC calls the project one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

Fluoride Treatment in Rochester

While fluoridated water is an excellent way to naturally protect your teeth from decay, it is no substitute for a thorough dental cleaning and regular visits to your Rochester dentist. To make an appointment today, call (507) 281-3659. Dr. Gilly Calcagno happily provides care to patients from Rochester, Red Wing, St. Charles, Winona, Farmington, and the surrounding communities.