What is fluoride?
Fluoride used to be for kids only. Now we know that everyone, kids and adults, benefit from fluoride.
Fluoride is like any other nutrient; it is safe and effective when used appropriately. Fluoride is found naturally in water, foods, soil, and several minerals. Fluoride is most commonly associated with dental hygiene products and tooth protection. Most people are exposed to fluoride through treated drinking water or products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
Fluoride is effective in preventing and reversing the early signs of dental caries (tooth decay). Researchers have shown that there are several ways through which fluoride achieves its decay-preventive effects. It makes the tooth structure stronger, so teeth are more resistant to acid attacks. Acid is formed when the bacteria in plaque break down sugars and carbohydrates from the diet. Repeated acid attacks break down the tooth, which causes cavities. Fluoride also acts to repair, or remineralize, areas in which acid attacks have already begun. The remineralization effect of fluoride is important because it reverses the early decay process as well as creating a tooth surface that is more resistant to decay.
Fluoride is obtained in two forms: topical and systemic. Topical fluorides strengthen teeth already present in the mouth making them more decay-resistant. Topical fluorides include toothpastes, mouth rinses and professionally applied fluoride therapies.
Systemic fluorides are those that are ingested into the body and become incorporated into forming tooth structures. Systemic fluorides can also give topical protection because fluoride is present in saliva, which continually bathes the teeth. Systemic fluorides include water fluoridation or dietary fluoride supplements in the form of tablets, drops or lozenges
Fluoride is very beneficial in terms of protecting the teeth against tooth decay. There are several reasons for this:
1. Fluoride in water or food strengthens the teeth as they are formed, before they come into the mouth.
This benefits children at the time the teeth are forming. The enamel that forms when there is fluoride present in the bloodstream is much stronger than enamel that forms with little or no fluoride present.
2. Topical Fluoride helps protect the teeth when they are in the mouth.
As adults, fluoridated water no longer benefits us. The teeth come under acid attack after every meal, and this acid dissolves the outer surface of the tooth. Topical fluoride in the form of toothpaste, rinses, and professionally applied gels and foams work to strengthen the surface of the teeth and make them more resistant to acid attack. This can be a benefit to both adults and children.
3. Fluoride makes plaque less harmful.
Fluoride reduces the amount of acid that is released by plaque bacteria. Thus, after we eat the acid attack the teeth are put under is not as strong.
Why would I need fluoride?
There are a number of reasons that you might benefit from fluoride. Some of the most common reasons are as follows:
- High decay rate
- History of dental decay (indicated by fillings)
- Crowns or bridgework
- Gum recession
- Dry mouth
- Poor oral hygiene
- Certain systemic conditions
- Certain medications
- Advanced age
What are the benefits of fluoride for you?
Obviously if we can prevent dental decay in the first place, you will have fewer tooth issues and have a greatly increased chance of keeping your teeth in good health and function for your entire life. A little effort and investment in your teeth now can reap benefits for the rest of your life.
How do I get fluoride?
All children should get some fluoride as the teeth are growing. There may be enough in your local water supply, whereby supplements are not needed. If there is not enough fluoride present in drinking water, fluoride supplements should be given to all children between 6 months and 16 years old. Supplements are available as drops for younger children and tablets for older children. We can prescribe them, and will advise you on the correct dose. The dose of fluoride that is best will depend on the age of the child and amount of fluoride in the water locally.
Once the teeth are formed then topical fluoride is of greatest importance.
Toothpastes have varied levels of fluoride present. The strength (concentration) of fluoride needed changes with age and level of risk of decay. Children should be supervised while brushing until about 7 years-of-age, and a pea-sized smear of toothpaste used. We sometimes prescribe toothpastes with very high fluoride concentrations for adults that have a high risk of decay.
Mouthwashes can be used in children, who are at higher risk of decay, from the age of 6. These can be very useful in adults with high levels of decay or increased risk of decay.
Professional varnishes and gels contain very high concentrations of fluoride, and remain in the mouth longer than at-home products. They can be very useful if applied at regular intervals. These can be of value for both children and adults.
Regardless of how you get your fluoride, you be certain that it is working in your mouth to help prevent dental decay. Safe and effective, fluoride is an important part of your dental care program. Preventive care now will benefit you for the rest of your life.
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