Have you ever come across appearance of faint white lines, streaks or sometimes a brown discolouration on the tooth? If yes, then that’s a common condition that we refer to as fluorosis.
It occurs when younger children consume too much fluoride, from any source such as tap water or artificial sweeteners, over long periods when teeth are developing under the gums.
For instance, you might have noticed that most people who are born and brought up in Arusha, have slight brown stains on their teeth – this is the very same condition that we speak of today.
In moderate to severe dental fluorosis, teeth are physically damaged.
The condition and how it affects people
Intake of excess fluoride, most commonly in drinking-water, can cause fluorosis which affects the teeth, sometimes bones. The severity of the condition is dependent on the dose, duration, and age of the individual during the contact with fluoride.
Strangely enough, low levels of fluoride intake help to prevent dental decay. The control of drinking-water quality is therefore, critical in preventing fluorosis.
Visible teeth fluorosis is characterised by staining and pitting of the teeth. In more severe situations, all the tooth may be damaged. However, fluoride may not be the only cause of teeth enamel defects.
Teeth enamel malformations similar to fluorosis are associated with other conditions, such as malnutrition with deficiency of vitamins D and A or a low protein-energy diet. Eating and/or drinking of fluoride after six years of age will not cause permanent teeth fluorosis.
How does it happen?
People affected by fluorosis are often exposed to multiple sources of fluoride, such as in food, water, air (due to gaseous industrial waste), and excessive use of fluoridated toothpaste.
However, drinking water is typically the most significant source. A person’s diet, general state of health and the body’s ability to get rid of fluoride all determine how the exposure to fluoride manifests itself.
Scope of the Problem
Teeth fluorosis are quite common and it is believed that fluorosis affects millions of people around the world.
People with fluorosis are relatively resistant to tooth decay caused by bacteria, although they may be of cosmetic concern. In moderate to severe fluorosis, teeth are physically damaged.
The author is a lecturer of Dentistry at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS).