Debunking Fluoride Myths: How to Educate Patients About Its Benefits

DATE: Dec 19, 2016 
AUTHOR: Jen Collins,RDH

Fluoride myths are often brought to our attention in the dental office by patients who are misinformed by what they read online. But in fact, fluoride is naturally found in all water, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association, and helps to harden the enamel on baby and adult teeth, lowering risk of dental caries.

Every dental hygienist's goal is to provide the best possible care, which occasionally can be challenging when patients initiate a debate on fluoride myths. There will always be stubborn people who won't listen to what you have to say, but providing them with the facts and debunking myths about fluoride may open their eyes to its benefits.

Read on to learn the truth behind three common fluoride myths that patients regularly bring up at the dental office and some tips to help educate them on the benefits of fluoride.

Myth #1: Fluoride Causes Cancer

One of the most common misconceptions is that fluoride causes cancer. Patients may have heard this claim based on an old study conducted in 1990 on rats and mice, in which a few male rats were affected; female rats and all mice were unaffected at doses of up to 79 ppm fluoride. Looking at humans, there is no evidence of a link in humans between fluoride and bone cancer.

The National Cancer Institute asserts, citing decades-long surveys by the Public Health Service and other national organizations and reviews of studies, that there is no association between fluoride and cancer. Years and years of epidemiological data support the safe use of fluoride. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that fluoridated water reaches 74 percent of the population using the public water supply in the United States with great success. The CDC named fluoridated water as one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Water fluoridation is a public health measure that over a number of decades has contributed to significant reductions in dental caries.

Myth #2: Fluoride Causes Thyroid Issues

Some patients incorrectly believe that their thyroid issues were brought on by the use of fluoride in their toothpaste. The theory may have stemmed from a 2015 British report published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. The researchers compared areas with different levels of fluoride present in their water systems. The team concluded that the high levels of fluoride served as "a useful contribution for predicting prevalence of hypothyroidism."

However, correlation doesn't equal causation and the study did not make any causal link. Another study published in 2012 in the journal European Journal of Dentistry found that subjects who had developed fluorosis from fluoride overexposure showed normal thyroid hormone levels.

Myth #3: Fluoride Is Unsafe for Young Children

The American Dental Association states that not only is fluoride safe for children, but it also helps to strengthen enamel from an early age. Ensuring children drink fluoridated water containing the recommended level of fluoride, and that they use a fluoride toothpaste at the recommended dose twice daily, helps to create early habits, and it helps to prevent dental caries in a safe and effective way. And while fluoride is an important component of a child's dental health, there is a risk of young children developing fluorosis with too much fluoride exposure, so be sure to advise your patients on the correct balance. The CDC also indicates that fluoridated water is relatively safe for use in infant formula, but there is a risk of mild dental fluorosis if mixing fluoridated water and dried formula that contains fluoride. To decrease the risk of fluorosis, they recommend using purified or distilled water rather than water that's been treated with fluoride to reconstitute dried formula.

Educating Your Patients

One way you can calm a patient's concerns is to educate them about the benefits of fluoride and how it may help prevent and treat oral conditions. Fluoride is safe and effective when used properly. Patients at an increased risk for caries, for example patients with chronic dry mouth who are at a high risk for caries, benefit from additional topical fluoride and prescription level home use fluoride pastes. Dry mouth is often the result of medication use. Also, patients who consume sugary and acidic foods and drinks are good candidates for prescription fluoride provided they are at least 6 years of age.

Daily fluoride use helps reduce the risk of dental caries and helps preserve the structural integrity of the teeth, including adjacent to a patient's restorative dentistry, such as fillings and crowns. Brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste can help prevent further caries, and fluoride can also be prescribed for specific needs patients provided they are at least 6 years of age. Click here to learn about Colgate Fluoride Therapy.

Takeaway

  • It's important to dispel fluoride myths to help your patients decide to use fluoride products.
  • You can help correct misconceptions by educating your patients on the proven benefits of fluoride.
  • Help your patients improve their oral health by adding fluoride to their daily routine.

Why It's Valuable

The value of fluoride has