Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride’s dental dominion may remain a mystery

Source: Scientific American | December 29th, 2010 | By Karen Hopkin

Beauty is only skin deep. And the beauty of shiny white teeth is even less deep. Because a new study shows that fluoride forms a thinner protective shield than experts thought it did. The results appear in the surface science journal Langmuir. [Frank Müller et al, Elemental Depth Profiling of Fluoridated Hydroxyapatite: Saving Your Dentition by the Skin of Your Teeth?]

American consumers spend more than $50 billion a year fighting cavities. When we realized that fluoride could help, we put it in our drinking water, our toothpaste and our mouthwash. But how does fluoride work its magic? Many figured that fluoride chemically reacts with the main mineral in enamel to form a thick, decay-resistant veneer. But the latest research kicks that idea in the teeth.

Scientists in Germany used X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to get a detailed image of the surface of a treated tooth. And they found that the protective covering is actually only 6 nanometers thick. That’s about a fifteen-housandth as thick as a sheet of paper. And a layer that skimpy would likely be worn away by ordinary chewing.

How fluoride keeps the tooth fairy away is a mystery that researchers are still working to unravel. In the meantime, we may not know how it works, but we know that it works. So keep brushing.

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