What is Fluoride?Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in water and foods. Through demineralization and remineralization, minerals are added and lost repeatedly from a tooth's enamel layer. Via demineralization, minerals are lost at the enamel layer when acids attack the enamel via its low pH. Bacteria utilize plaque and sugars in the mouth to produce acids that over time may destroy teeth enamel and eventually dentin via tooth decay.
Minerals like fluoride, calcium, and phosphate can redeposit themselves to the enamel from exposure of water and food containing such minerals. If the rate of demineralization exceeds that of remineralization, tooth decay can result.
How does Fluoride Prevent Tooth Decay?Fluoride can help reduce tooth decay risk by making teeth less susceptible to the effects of acidic bacterial enzymes. Fluoride can also reverse mild tooth decay via remineralization in children, teens, and adults. In children under 6 years of age while the permanent dentition is still in development, fluoride can incorporate itself into the permanent tooth and lower the effects of bacterial induced acids that may cause tooth decay.
Think of fluoride as a tooth vitamin. In the right amounts taken daily, it makes your teeth strong!
Who Benefits Most from Fluoride?For most people, infants and children age 6 to 17 should have exposure to fluoride, since during this time period most permanent teeth start to erupt. Adults can also benefit from fluoride, as fluoride can diminish the demineralization process.
Certain people with specific conditions may sometimes be at an increased risk for tooth decay. Because these conditions may increase the demineralization rate, fluoride treatment may help with remineralization.
- Dry Mouth: Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth may be present in people who are on certain medications (antihistamines, anti hypertensive drugs for high blood pressure, anti-anxiety drugs), people with Sjögren's syndrome, and people with history of radiation and chemotherapy treatment due to cancer.
- Previous history of cavities: People who develop cavities every year may benefit from additional fluoride treatment
- Teeth with fillings, crowns and bridges, and orthodontic treatment: Dental restorations and braces/brackets are often a source to trap and collect plaque, which can put teeth at higher risk for tooth decay.
Where is Fluoride Found?Fluoride can be found in select toothpastes and mouth rinses. However, not all toothpastes and mouth rinses contain fluoride, so be sure to check the label to ensure fluoride is one of the ingredients. Your dentist and dental hygienist can also apply a topical application during the dental cleaning and checkup visit.
Fluoride can be naturally found in the air as gases or particulates. It can also be released into the environment through rock weathering and through volcanic and seawater emissions.
Is Fluoride Safe? Are there Risks with its use?When use as directed per label instructions, fluoride is safe and effective. At high doses it can be toxic and causes undesired effects to the body. Excessive fluoride can also cause tooth fluorosis, the presence of enamel defects such as minor white spots or rampant yellow and brown discolorations. Fluorosis tends to occur in children less than 6 years of age who ingest excessive fluoride, as it starts when teeth are in its initial forming states.
Cosmetically, excessive fluorosis discolorations can sometimes be treated with cosmetic porcelain veneers and teeth whitening. Your dentist can evaluate the proper treatment in such cases.
Again, think of fluoride as vitamin. In just the right amounts, it has a positive effect. In excessive amounts, it can be harmful.
If you have any questions on fluoride, its benefits, treatment, and risks, please consult with your family dentist or dental hygienist.
From your gentle dentist in Bellevue,
Dr. Peter Chien