Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in almost all foods and water supplies. The fluoride ion comes from the element fluorine. Fluorine, the 13th most abundant element in the earth's crust, is never encountered in its free state in nature. It exists only in combination with other elements as a fluoride compound. Fluoride is effective in preventing and reversing the early signs of tooth decay. Researchers have shown that there are several ways through which fluoride achieves its decay-preventive effects. It makes the tooth structure stronger, so teeth are more resistant to acid attacks. Acid is formed when the bacteria in plaque break down sugars and carbohydrates from the diet. Repeated acid attacks break down the tooth, which causes cavities. Fluoride also acts to repair areas in which acid attacks have already begun. The remineralization effect of fluoride is important because it reverses the early decay process as well as creating a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay. Community water fluoridation is the adjustment of the amount of the beneficial trace element fluoride found in water to provide for the proper protection of teeth. Fluoridation has been widely utilized in this country since 1945. It does not involve adding anything to the water that is not already there, since virtually all sources of drinking water in the United States contain some fluoride. Fluoridation is a form of nutritional supplementation that is not unlike the addition of vitamins to milk, breads and fruit drinks; iodine to table salt; and both vitamins and minerals to breakfast cereals, grains and pastas. The protection of fluoridation reaches community members in their homes, at work and at school -- simply by drinking the water. The only requirements for the implementation of fluoridation are the presence of a treatable centralized water supply and approval by appropriate decision makers. Some people believe that there are effective alternatives to...
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