Fluoride is a mineral that is found in all-natural water sources and 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.
When used as directed by a dentist or within the context of community water fluoridation programs, fluoride is a safe and effective agent that can be used to prevent and control dental caries (cavities).
Why Fluoride Is Good for Your 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 Fluoride Intake Is Most Important
It is important for infants and children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years to be exposed to fluoride. This is the timeframe during which the primary and permanent teeth are growing in.
However, adults benefit from fluoride, too. Topical fluoride from toothpaste, mouth rinses, and fluoride dental treatments are as important in fighting tooth decay as they are 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 at your dental clinic will typically be a one-time application of a gel, foam, or varnish solution. Varnishes are painted on the teeth, while foams are put into a dental tray and then applied to the teeth for a few minutes. Gels can either be painted on or applied via a tray.