What should I know about fluoride?
Fluoride, along with other minerals like calcium and phosphate, helps with the remineralization process. When you consume food or drinks besides water, the acids from plaque and sugars attack your teeth’s enamel. Remineralization helps repair that enamel and prevent tooth decay by helping making teeth resistant to plaque bacteria and sugar.
Certain conditions may also make you more likely to benefit from a fluoride treatment as a way to further guard against tooth decay. Dry mouth, gum disease, a history of cavities – these are all conditions that may lead your dentist or hygienist to suggest a fluoride treatment.
What does fluoride do?
Fluoride is said to protect the teeth in two ways:
- Protection from demineralization – when bacteria in the mouth combine with sugars they produce acid. This acid can erode tooth enamel and damage our teeth. Fluoride can protect teeth from demineralization that is caused by the acid.
- Remineralization – if there is already some damage to teeth caused by acid, fluoride accumulates in the demineralized areas and begins strengthening the enamel, a process called remineralization.
Fluoride is extremely useful in preventing cavities and making teeth stronger. However, it is much less effective if a cavity has already formed.
Excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride during tooth development (during childhood) can result in tiny white streaks or specks in the enamel of the tooth in mild cases of dental fluorosis. In severe cases of dental fluorosis, the tooth has more evident discoloration and brown markings. The enamel may be rough and pitted, and difficult to clean.The spots and stains, which are permanent, may eventually darken.
Of greatest concern is the aesthetic changes that occur in the permanent teeth among children who are exposed to too much fluoride between the ages of 20 and 30 months. According to dentists, the critical period of fluoride exposure is between 1 and 4 years of age – the risk goes away after the age of 8 years. Symptom-severity depends on several factors, including the child’s age, weight, degree of physical activity, bone growth, diet and individual response.
Who needs fluoride?
Virtually all public health authorities and medical associations worldwide recommend that children and adults receive a minimum (and maximum) level of fluoride. Children need fluoride to protect their permanent teeth as they are being formed. Adults also need fluoride to protect their teeth from decay.
Several people, especially those at higher risk of tooth decay, benefit from fluoride treatment. This includes individuals who have:
- Poor dental hygiene
- No access to a dentist
- Diets that are high in sugars/carbohydrates
- Bridges, crowns, braces, and other restoration procedures
- A history of tooth decay (cavities)