Never mind about brushing and flossing—it’s all about the fluoride. That’s the gist of an article this week in the dental journal Gerodontology. But are people getting the message?
Health authorities recognize fluoride as a cavity blocker. Most toothpastes already contain the ingredient. But "natural" toothpaste marketers and others often insist fluoride-free toothpaste also prevents cavities.
Dental authorities disagree. They worry more people are using toothpaste that skips the most important ingredient—fluoride—and leaves them at greater risk of cavities.
The idea that simply brushing teeth doesn't stop cavities has been accepted among most researchers for decades—but not always by the public. Dentists recommend fluoride for cavity fighting, but some continue to believe that the mechanics of wiping your teeth clean of plaque also reduces cavities. The new findings show that’s not the case. Researchers from the University of Washington analyzed three separate studies involving about 800 children from the United States and Great Britain. They found no siginificant reduction in cavities in those who brushed and flossed their teeth without fluoride.
Jeff Davis, CEO of Sheffield Pharmaceuticals that sells toothpaste with and without fluoride, says some people worry about the harmful effect of too much fluoride and choose fluoride-free toothpaste.
There is some value in brushing—even without fluoride. And toothbrushing does reduce swollen gums, dislodge stuck food, and help patients recover from oral surgery. But research on cavities stresses that, without fluoride, oral hygiene efforts have "no impact" on cavity rates.
"It's really important to debunk this idea that brushing your teeth stops decay. You need to have the fluoride," says Damien Walmsley, a scientific adviser to the British Dental Association.
(AP Photo: A toothbrush and toothpaste held by Philippe Hujoel, a dentist and University of Washington professor.)