We’ve all probably probably heard that fluoride has advantages for our oral health, but many patients that come to our dental practice have a false notion that fluoride is only important for children, whose baby teeth are generally more prone to cavities. That’s simply not true. In fact, fluoride is incredibly important for both adults and children to keep our teeth as healthy as possible throughout our lifetime and prevent decay over time.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride comes from fluorine, which is a common, naturally-occurring element that is found in your bones and teeth, but also in organic materials like plants, rocks, soil, and water. Fluoride can also be produced synthetically for use in fluoride products like toothpastes, mouth washes, or drinking water.
When and why is fluoride used on teeth?
In the dentist’s office, fluoride is used to strengthen the protective outer coating on the teeth — the enamel. By strengthening a tooth’s enamel, we can help prevent cavities. This is typically done by applying a gel, foam, or varnish in the office, and contains a much higher level of fluoride than is found elsewhere. Varnishes are painted onto the teeth, foams are applied using a mouth guard, and gels can be administered both ways.
Fluoride can be found in over-the-counter toothpastes, mouth washes, or supplements, and if you are prone to getting a lot of cavities, your dentist might recommend using fluoride-enriched products at home.
Many cities actually add fluoride to the city drinking water as a cost-effective and easy way to protect both children and adults from tooth decay.
What are the advantages of fluoride for adults and children?
In adults and children, fluoride can help combat a process called demineralization, which can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Every day, minerals are lost and added to a tooth’s enamel process through demineralization and remineralization. Because tooth enamel is hard yet porous, plaque on the surface of the teeth can produce acids that seep into the pores of the enamel and break down their internal structure, causing decay. This makes the teeth lose minerals, or demineralize.
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to the acid from plaque sugars and bacteria in the mouth. Fluoride helps new enamel crystals to form on the surface of the teeth that are much larger, harder, and more resistant to acid than our natural teeth. This process is called remineralization.
If you are prone to cavities, or have questions about fluoride, talk you your dentist at your next regular cleaning.