Does Fluoride Whiten Teeth? All You Need to Know About Fluoride

Teeth Whitening | Source: NTUC Health Denticare

It is widely known that having white teeth can give you a healthier and more attractive smile. Many people are interested in finding ways to whiten their teeth without resorting to harsh chemicals or expensive treatments. Fluoride, which have been used for decades to help teeth healthy and strong, have been touted by internet users as a harmless teeth whitener.

But can fluoride also whiten teeth? This is a question that many people have asked, and the answer is not as straightforward as you may think. In this blog post, we will explore the science behind fluoride and teeth whitening, and help you understand whether fluoride is truly an effective way to whiten your teeth.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a minerals can be found in soil, water and rocks. It is also naturally found in food such as spinach, grapes, black tea, and potatoes. However, the benefits of fluoride have prompted local communities and manufacturers to add the mineral into toothpastes and drinking water to help prevent tooth decay.

Fluoride works by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to the acid attacks caused by bacteria in the mouth. Fluoride can also help to remineralize areas of the tooth that have begun to demineralize, which can help to prevent cavities from forming. Additionally, fluoride can help to reduce sensitivity in teeth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that drinking fluoridated water reduces cavities by about 25% in children and adults and contributes to an average dental savings of $32 per person per year. As such, many public, medical, and dental organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the fluoridation of local water systems to help prevent cavities among the community. In fact, water fluoridation was recognized as one of the top ten public health achievements in the 20th century.

How Fluoride Protects the Teeth

Fluoride works to protect the teeth in a few different ways.

The first is by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it resistant to acid attacks. The enamel is the hard, protective layer on the outside of the tooth that helps to protect it from decay. When acid from bacteria and food erodes the enamel, it can lead to cavities and other dental problems such as gingivitis. Fluoride fortifies the enamel, making it less likely to be damaged by acid.

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Another way fluoride protects the teeth is by promoting remineralization. Remineralization is the process by which minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, are deposited back into the tooth enamel. This helps to repair small areas of damage and make the tooth stronger overall. Fluoride is known to promote remineralization by helping to increase the amount of calcium and phosphate in the tooth enamel.

Last but not least, fluoride kills harmful bacteria that causes decay and makes it difficult for them to grow and reproduce in the mouth. This can help to reduce the risk of cavities and other dental problems.

However, it is important to note that excessive use of fluoride can lead to a condition called dental fluorosis. Mild cases of dental fluorosis are characterized by small white or opaque spots on the teeth while severe cases can cause pitting and even erosion of the enamel.

Can Fluoride Whiten Teeth?

Unfortunately, answer is no. Fluoride does not whiten the teeth. Fluoride is not a teeth whitening agent and does not directly whiten teeth.

However, fluoride contributes indirectly to the whitening of the teeth. This is due to the enamel strengthening effects as explained in the previous section. Dentin, which is a hard, yellowish substance beneath the enamel, plays an important role as it supports the enamel and protects the tooth pulp from damage. However, it is partly responsible for the tooth’s color. Fluoride improves the appearance of the teeth by making the white enamel thicker and the yellowish dentin less visible.

Scanning electron microscope (SEM) view of abrasive particles in toothpaste

You may have seen whitening toothpaste and wondered if it is fluoride that does the job of whitening the teeth. While it is true that these toothpaste contains fluoride, it is in fact the abrasive ingredients that helps to remove surface stains. Abrasives such as hydrated silica and calcium carbonate work by physically scrubbing the surface of the teeth, removing any stains present on the surface.

How to Whiten Teeth?

Today, the most effective teeth whitening treatment involves the use of a bleaching agent such as hydrogen peroxide, and carbamide peroxide.

When hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with the teeth, it breaks down into oxygen and water. The oxygen molecules then penetrate the enamel and dentin, breaking down the molecules that cause stains. This process, known as oxidation, can effectively remove surface stains on the teeth, such as those caused by coffee, tea, and tobacco. Carbamide peroxide work in a similar way but is less powerful as it breaks down at a much slower rate.

Today, these substances are commonly found in whitening products such as whitening trays, strips, and gel. Teeth whitening treatments at professional clinics utilizes these bleaching agent albeit at a signifcantly higher concentration.

It’s important to note that using hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide in higher concentrations or for an extended period of time can cause damage to the teeth, gums, and soft tissues. It is always best to follow the instructions on the product and consult with a dental professional or a dentist before using any teeth whitening products that contain hydrogen peroxide.

Additionally, it’s also important to note that the bleaching agent will only whiten teeth by removing surface stains and it will not change the natural color of the teeth.