Of the agents currently used for prevention of tooth decay, fluoride is generally considered the most effective. It is a naturally occurring mineral that is present in varying amounts in nearly all foods and water supplies. The beneficial impact of fluoride on tooth health have been recognized for more than 50 years, and use of fluoride in various forms is supported by a variety of health and professional organizations.
Fluoride is known to work in two ways:
Topical fluoride (fluoride treatment absorbed through / applied to the surface of teeth). Once the teeth have erupted, topical fluoride directly penetrates the tooth surface. It works by “soaking” into the tooth enamel, thereby strengthening teeth and making them more resistant to decay. In addition to direct, professional application of dental fluoride during regular dental check-ups, other sources of topical fluoride include such products as toothpaste, gels, and mouth rinses—and fluoride is added to many public water systems.
Systemic fluoride (fluoride that is incorporated into the bodily systems) strengthens the teeth that have erupted and those that are developing beneath the gums. Systemic fluoride enters our systems through most foods and public water supplies. It is also available as a supplement in the form of drops or tablets, and may be prescribed by your physician or dentist.
In general, fluoride drops are recommended for infants, while tablets are best suited for children up through the teen years. It is crucial that the amounts of fluoride ingested by a child be carefully monitored. In the event that too much fluoride is consumed when the teeth are developing, it may cause a condition called fluorosis (white spots on the teeth).
Most people derive fluoride from food and water, but it is not always enough to provide adequate protection from decay. Your dental hygienist or dentist may recommend using home and / or professional fluoride treatments to address the following problems:
• Poor or inadequate oral hygiene practices.
• Frequent intake of carbohydrates / sugar.
• Recent incidence of dental decay.
• Inadequate exposure to fluorides.
• Inadequate saliva flow due to medical conditions, medical treatments or medications.
• Exposed and sensitive root surfaces.
• Deep pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth.
Please understand: fluoride treatment alone cannot prevent tooth decay! It is critical that teeth and gums are brushed at least twice daily and flossed regularly. It’s also important for patients to minimize sugary snacks, eat balanced meals, and regularly visit a dentist for routine care and maintenance.