The story of fluoride

Originally, fluorides did not have any relation to the dental sector at all. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that physicians and chemist in Europe started researching fluoride and its presence in teeth and bones.

In 1901, Dr. dr. Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs to open a dental practice. Upon his arrival, he discovered that more than 90% of the natives in Colorado had significant brown staining on their teeth. This was later known as the “Colorado Brown Stain”. He started to research this phenomenon and decided to invite Dr. Black to collaborate with him.  As a result of their research Dr. McKay made a statement:

“Mottled enamel is characterized by minute white flecks, or yellow or brown spots or areas, scattered irregularly or streaked over the surface of a tooth, or it may be a condition, where the entire tooth surface is of a dead paper-white, like the color of a china dish. In many cases the surface of the tooth is dotted with irregular, shallow pits, which are usually darkly discolored because of the lodgement therein of débris. Such are spoken of as the ´pitted´ variety. …”

“It is a curious fact that the earlier thought was directed toward, or confined to that phase of the lesion which was spoken of as the brown stain; and this is easily accounted for by its conspicuousness, being located as it is, almost without exception, upon the labial surfaces of the upper incisors (*). The white spotted or opaque appearance of the enamel of the entire denture seemed hardly to have been noticed, or at least it was rarely spoken of in discussions.” – McKay F.S.: Dental Cosmos 58 (1916) 479

The mottled brown stains were the result of the development of imperfections in tooth enamel and those affected were surprisingly resistant to tooth decay. Later on, Dr. McKay was able to trace the brown stain to the water supply, which was rich in fluoride.

What is Fluoride?

When people hear the word “fluorine” or “fluoride”, most people instantly think of dentistry. Things like dental caries and toothpaste are some of the things that pop into the head. This is with good reason as more or less every single toothpaste on the market contains fluoride. However, what is actually the fluoride? Basically, fluoride is a mineral, which can be found in rocks, soil and water.

So what does fluoride actually do?

Fluoride helps fight tooth decay. This mineral is found in toothpaste and public water supplies. It is often called “nature’s cavity fighter”, as it helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before it can be seen. Research shows that it makes the teeth more resistant to acid attacks, which is the main cause of cavities. Every single time you brush your teeth with toothpaste containing fluoride or drink water with fluoride you are strengthening the enamel (the outer surface of your teeth) and preventing cavities.

Dr. Fredrick McKay dedicated his dental career to promoting fluoride and the benefits it has against tooth decay.  In 1952 he encouraged the Board of Estimate to hold a hearing on one of the most contentious issues of the Cold War: whether to begin fluoridation of New York’s drinking water. Critics had denounced it as forced medication, dangerously toxic or a Communist plot.

In 1965, after 8 hard-fought years, fluoridation of drinking water begun in New York City.

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