Fluoride is the ionic form of the element fluorine, and there are organic and inorganic compounds containing fluorine which form fluorides. Some of these are found naturally in low concentrations in drinking water and in tea and other foods, and indeed, the ocean itself has an average concentration of fluoride compounds of 1.3 parts per million. In industry, hydrofluoric acid is used for the etching of glass and also for the making of integrated circuit boards and other industrial applications. However, generally, in terms of healthcare, it is used to deal with prevention of tooth decay. In a very concentrated form, it can be a prescription drug as a part of drug molecules to resist the detoxification in the liver by the Cytochrome P450 oxidase.
Fluoride has been used for a long time in the treatment of teeth to prevent tooth decay, and is found in toothpaste. In 1951, Joseph C. Muhler and Harry G. Day of Indiana University reported that their research on stannous fluoride was an effective means of preventing tooth decay, and the university sold the research findings to Procter & Gamble who started using it in their Crest® toothpaste. Nowadays, fluoride is found in most toothpastes, and it is possible to use fluoride although care must be taken not to use too much, otherwise dental fluorosis could occur through overexposure.
In addition, there has been much debate over water fluoridation with some parts of the world introducing it into water supplies to help reduce the level of tooth decay in children. This has led to widespread debate around the world with the World Health Organization and the American Dental Association recommending increasing the level of fluoride in water to between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million. Opponents of water fluoridization claims that an increase in fluoride could weaken the human immune system, and this could lead to increased prevalence of certain diseases and disorders.
However, most international health service agencies recognize that the benefits involved in the prevention of dental decay hugely outweigh the concerns that some people have expressed regarding the side effects. Articles on the role of fluoride and it possible side effects have been published in the British Medical Journal and also in forums such as The Journal of Fluorine Chemistry. This has not stopped politicians in many countries opposing the fluoridization of water, some of which involved several marathon debates in the British House of Commons, the latest of which was in November 2003.
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