Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that has been shown to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. As such, some countries even add fluoride to their public water supplies, a move that has even been cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

According to a 2015 review, fluorinated water led to 35% fewer decayed, missing, or filled baby teeth in children, a 15% increase in children with no decay in their baby teeth, and a 14% increase in children with no decay in their permanent teeth.

Impressive, right? It thus seems like a no-brainer to have go for toothpastes with fluoride but fluoride-free toothpaste in the Philippines has been gaining popularity. Read on to find out whether a fluoride or fluoride-free toothpaste is for you.

Fluoride vs. Non-Fluoride Toothpaste

To understand how fluoride works, it helps to know the basics of tooth decay. Tooth decay, also known as dental carries or cavities, occur when tooth tissue or enamel is destroyed by bacteria from dental plaque, a sticky film that forms on teeth when you eat or drink anything sugary.

According to Mary Hayes of the American Dental Association, fluoride may be effective against tooth decay because it converts harmful acids on enamel into less harmful ones, reduces the ability of plaque organisms to produce acid, and strengthens enamel that has been damaged by acids.

When is fluoride not a good thing? When you ingest too much of it. The main fluoride side effect is fluorosis, which happens with the overconsumption of the substance. Fluorosis gives teeth an unsightly mottled appearance and, in extreme cases, may lead to skeletal fluorosis.

The following, therefore, should certainly use fluoride-free toothpaste:

  • Children two years old and under. As they may not know how to spit yet, they are likely to ingest their toothpaste.
  • Those who are allergic to fluoride.
  • Those who have medical conditions that may be affected by fluoride use.

It is also quite possible that you may already be getting enough fluoride from your diet alone and can thus use a fluoride-free toothpaste. Should you decide to go fluoride-free, consult your dentist so he or she can evaluate any dietary changes you might have to make.

In general, fluoride toothpaste is safe to use. The American Dental Association (ADA) does have guidelines for fluoride toothpaste use in children younger than three years old: Use no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice; brush teeth thoroughly twice a day or as directed by a dentist; and supervise children’s brushing to make sure they use the right amount of toothpaste. Children three to six years old can use a pea-sized amount of fluoride-toothpaste; supervise their pressure to minimize the amount of toothpaste they swallow. 

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

Caring for your teeth isn’t just a matter of choosing fluoride or non-fluoride toothpaste. In fact, in an interview with the University of Utah, Dr. David Okano stated that the mechanical action of brushing your teeth is a bigger factor in preventing tooth decay than the toothpaste that you use. Follow these guidelines to keep those pearly whites clean and healthy:

Brush your teeth—the right way—at least twice a day. The American Dental Association gives a step-by-step for brushing teeth the correct way: “Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. Move the brush back and forth gently in short strokes. Brush the outer surfaces, the inside surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of all teeth. To clean the inside surface of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes. Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and keep your breath fresh.”

Make sure you also brush for two minutes and not just give your teeth a cursory pass with your toothbrush.

Floss regularly. Many people take flossing for granted but the tiny particles that get stuck in between teeth are some of the biggest culprits behind plaque. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Flossing is an important oral hygiene practice. Tooth decay and gum disease can develop when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth and along the gum line. Professional cleaning, tooth brushing, and cleaning between teeth (flossing and the use of other tools such as interdental brushes) have been shown to disrupt and remove plaque.”

You’ll be surprised at the little bits and pieces that you didn’t even know were there!

Go see your dentist. Many people tend to see their dentist only when they start to experience pain but this usually means that a problem has gotten pretty severe and may require more (and more expensive) interventions.

See your dentist once every six months for a general cleaning to keep problems like cavities from getting out of hand. If you’re opting for fluoride-free toothpaste, you may want to ask your dentist about topical fluoride for teeth that he or she can apply during your visit.

Avoid plaque-causing food. Another bonus of healthy eating? You don’t get the icky stuff that normally become the breeding ground for plaque. Avoid sweets and anything sticky, hard, acidic, or crunchy. If you must indulge, make sure you give your teeth a thorough cleaning afterwards.