Fluoride is a chemical ion of the element fluorine found in abundance on the Earth’s crust. Fluoride is the 13th most plentiful element. Fluoride is found naturally in soil, water and foods. Minerals like fluorapatite and fluorite also contain fluoride.
Fluoride is also produced in laboratories. This type of fluoride is used by local water operators to fortify drinking water to prevent tooth decay in communities using the water. It is also added to consumer products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
It is believed that fluoride protects against tooth decay by combating demineralization. Bacteria found in the mouth combines with sugar to create acid. This acid leads to the erosion of tooth enamel. This process is a result of demineralization. Fluoride tends to accumulate in areas already damaged by acid. This leads to strengthening of tooth enamel, which is a process known as remineralization.
The World Health Organization reports that millions of people around the globe are exposed to excessive elevated levels of fluoride through drinking water. This contamination occurs from geological sources in some parts of the world, including southern Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and Africa. Excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride can lead to several health conditions, including dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis. Dental fluorosis results in the staining and pitting of the teeth. Skeletal fluorosis is characterized by stiffness and pain in the joints due to the progressive accumulation of fluoride in the bones.