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Why is fluoride important to you?

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Did you know that every time you eat or drink something, your teeth undergo a very complex process?

Throughout the day, it is natural for your teeth to constantly mineralize and demineralize. You can think of this process as your enamel becoming harder or softer. Although this is a natural process, if demineralization is happening more frequently than mineralization, it leads to an increased risk of tooth decay. The good news is there is a supplement that can change all that.

Fluoride is a natural mineral that we can find supplemented in over-the-counter toothpastes, mouth rinses and some drinking water.

Enamel is the white, outermost layer of your tooth that everybody sees when you smile. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body but is porous. Plaque is bacteria found in everyone's mouth that consumes the fermentable sugars you eat and excretes them in a form of acid. When the acid produced by plaque seeps into the pores of tooth enamel, it leads to demineralization or the softening of the tooth. If left untreated, it can turn into a cavity.

When swishing with a fluoride rinse or brushing with fluoride toothpaste, you are able to strengthen or remineralize the weak spots in the teeth created from plaque. Not only will your enamel be strengthened back to its normal strength, it becomes even stronger than it was before.

While living in the United States, we are usually exposed to optimal levels of fluoride in the drinking water to help combat tooth decay. Here in Okinawa, there is no fluoride in the drinking water. This should provide us an even stronger reason to use fluoride products in our oral care regimen.

So the next time you have a bite to eat, think of the changes that are happening to your teeth. Investing a few dollars in fluoride products could save you a few unnecessary trips to the dental office.