Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. Here, our Toddlers To Teens dentists explain how topical fluoride treatments work to protect your teeth.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is the ionic form of the trace element fluorine, which is commonly found in the environment; fluorine reaches water sources by leaching from soil and rocks into groundwater.
Fluoride is a safe and effective agent for preventing and controlling dental caries when used as directed by a dentist or in the context of community water fluoridation programs (cavities).
How is fluoride good for teeth?
Your tooth enamel continuously goes through a demineralization and remineralization process.
Demineralization is the loss of minerals from the enamel. This happens when acids (formed by plaque and bacteria in the mouth) attack the enamel.
During remineralization, minerals like calcium, phosphate, and fluoride are redeposited to the enamel when we drink water or eat certain mineral-rich foods.
When teeth aren’t sufficiently remineralized (if you don’t consume enough of the required minerals), tooth decay can result.
Fluoride, then, helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acid. In some cases, it can also help reverse decay that has already begun.
For children under six years old, fluoride becomes incorporated into the developing permanent teeth, making it more difficult for acids to demineralize them.
When is fluoride intake most important?
Fluoride exposure is critical for infants and children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. This is the period when the primary and permanent teeth are developing.
Adults, on the other hand, benefit from fluoride. Fluoride from toothpaste, mouthwashes, and fluoride treatments is just as important for preventing tooth decay as it is for strengthening developing teeth.
Fluoride Treatment At Your Dentist’s Office
Sometimes, fluoride consumed via water and food is not sufficient to protect the teeth, and in these cases, additional fluoride application is advisable.
While there are many over-the-counter fluoride toothpaste and mouthwashes, these contain relatively low levels of fluoride.
Stronger concentrations are available by prescription, and your dentist can also apply fluoride treatment in stronger concentrations at your dental clinic.
Fluoride treatment is usually a one-time application of a gel, foam, or varnish solution at your dental clinic. Varnishes are applied to the teeth, while foams are placed in a dental tray and applied for a few minutes. Gels can be applied with a brush or with a tray.