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While conventional dentistry tends to regard the use of fluoride to prevent cavities as a remarkable triumph of preventive medicine, proponents of alternative medicine have long taken the opposite view. To them, water fluoridation, in particular, is a form of medically sanctioned environmental pollution. These strongly emotional and diametrically opposed views have created a murky world of charges and countercharges. In this article, we will limit ourselves to the current scientific evidence regarding fluoride and cavities and avoid delving into the numerous myths, rumors, exaggerations, and conspiracy theories associated with the topic.
Fluorine is an element in the family of chlorine, bromine and iodine. A “fluoride” is a certain type of chemical compound containing fluorine. The most common forms of fluoride used to prevent cavities are sodium fluoride (analogous to sodium chloride, or common salt), sodium monofluorophosphate, and sodium hexafluorosilicate. Stannous fluoride, a compound containing tin, was once popular, but it is now seldom used.
The use of fluorine for preventing cavities originally derived, at least in part, from the observation that people who grow up drinking water that is high in fluorides, but not too high, have a much reduced incidence of cavities. This observation led dental researchers to conclude that if fluoride is present during the initial stages of tooth formation, those teeth will...