Fluoride and dental health
Fluoride is a natural mineral that builds strong teeth and prevents cavities. It’s been an essential oral health treatment for decades. Fluoride supports healthy tooth enamel and fights the bacteria that harm teeth and gums. Tooth enamel is the outer protective layer of each tooth.
Fluoride is especially helpful if you’re at high risk of developing dental caries, or cavities. Cavities occur when bacteria build up on teeth and gums and form a sticky layer of plaque. Plaque produces an acid that erodes teeth and gum tissue. If the plaque breaks down the enamel layer, bacteria can infect and harm the nerves and blood at the core of the tooth. Fluoride varnish is a pale yellow gel that sets quickly when applied to children’s teeth using a soft brush. The varnish sets quickly, has a pleasant taste and a fruity smell.
Scientific studies have shown that fluoride varnish gives added protection to teeth against decay when used in addition to brushing teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste.
Dentists provide professional fluoride treatments in the form of a highly concentrated rinse, foam, gel, or varnish. The treatment may be applied with a swab, brush, tray, or mouthwash.
These treatments have much more fluoride than what’s in your water or toothpaste. They only take a few minutes to apply. You may be asked to avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes after the treatment so the fluoride can fully absorb.
The IDA recommends a professional fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office every 3, 6, or 12 months, depending on your oral health. If you’re at high risk for cavities, your dentist may also prescribe a special fluoride rinse or gel to use regularly at home.
The following can increase your risk of cavities:
- excessive drug or alcohol use
- eating disorder
- poor oral hygiene
- lack of professional dental care
- poor diet
- dry mouth, or decreased saliva
- weak enamel
Common sources of dietary fluoride include:
- food cooked in water
- fish eaten with their bones
- infant formula
Fluoride works by restoring minerals to tooth surfaces where bacteria may have eroded the enamel. It can also inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria and further prevent cavities.
Fluoride cannot remove decay but, while creating a stronger outer surface to your teeth, it can help stop the decay from penetrating into the deeper parts of teeth.
Fluoride benefits both children and adults. The earlier children are exposed to fluoride, the less likely they are to develop cavities.
Like any medication, too much fluoride can cause negative complications. You can get too much fluoride by accidentally overdosing or by being prescribed a dose that’s too high. Fluoride poisoning is very rare today, though chronic overexposure may harm developing bones and teeth in small children. Many children’s toothpastes don’t include fluoride.
Too much fluoride can cause:
- white specks on mature teeth
- staining and pitting on teeth
- problems with bone homeostasis
- very dense bones that aren’t very strong