What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent tooth decay in both children and adults. The World Health Organization reported that “there is clear evidence that long-term exposure to an optimal level of fluoride results in diminishing levels of caries (cavities) in both child and adult populations.”
Please see the specific questions below to learn how the right amount of fluoride can help you. And if there are children in your life, please read “Fluoride for Children.”
How Does Fluoride Help Adult Teeth?
Fluoride applied to the surface of teeth has been shown to be as important in fighting adult tooth decay as in strengthening developing teeth in children.
Research suggests that adults who are prone to tooth decay benefit when fluoride is applied to the outside of their teeth (topical fluoride)—from over-the-counter and prescription toothpastes, mouth rinses and professional fluoride treatments.
The following are some of the indications that you should talk with us about the ways a fluoride treatment might help you:
- Pits or fissures (cracks) on the chewing surfaces of your teeth
- Exposed or sensitive root surfaces
- Crowns, bridges or braces
- Inadequate saliva flow
- Dry mouth conditions
- From antihistamines, allergy, antianxiety or blood pressure medications
- Certain diseases or head and neck radiation treatment
- Recent history of dental decay
- If you have a cavity every year or two
- A love for, and high intake of, sugar or carbohydrates
Why Do Older People—or Those with Reduced Saliva—Need Fluoride?
Age, as well as some medications and medical treatments reduce the amount of saliva we produce. The lack of saliva makes it harder to naturally wash food particles and sugar acids off the teeth, making them more prone to decay.
Fluoride treatments help make up for what saliva used to do. Some medications—antihistamines for example—decrease saliva volume, as do some diseases. Radiation treatments are another culprit.
If you are prone to any of these problems, we may suggest fluoride treatments so you can keep your teeth and gums in good condition.
Got a Sweet-Tooth? Snack Throughout the Day? Love Carbs?
Most people like sweets and carbs. Unfortunately, each time you eat a sweet or other carbohydrate, sugar acids are formed that literally eat away at tooth enamel. Professional fluoride treatments make the enamel harder, which makes the teeth less prone to developing cavities.
Minimize the number of times per day you have sugar acids. It’s not actually the amount of carbs that causes decay; it’s the length of time your teeth are exposed to the acid from sugar or other carbs. If you eat a lot of carbs at lunch or dinner, that’s one exposure. If you sip sugary drinks, sports drinks, coffee with cream and/or sugar, or snack on pretzels, candy or even fruit throughout the day, that’s continuous exposure and much more damaging for your teeth. This “sugar” when combined with plaque can release acid for 20 minutes per exposure. Be sure to brush, rinse, and ask us about fluoride options that can be helpful for you.
What is Fluoride Treatment?
Fluoride is a mineral that has been used for many years to prevent tooth decay. If you were lucky enough to be born and live in an area with the perfect amount of fluoride naturally occurring in the water, you would have few, if any, cavities or fillings.
Unfortunately, New England isn’t one of those areas so fluoride is added to drinking water in many towns, which helps—but is not enough. Over the counter toothpaste, gels, and mouth rinses can reduce or prevent decay. However, the fluoride our dentists and hygienists use is much more concentrated and this higher concentration fluoride fights tooth decay more powerfully. It’s more effective in protecting your teeth—and we encourage you to get the most effective treatment available.
Scientifically, here’s the story. Every day minerals are lost from teeth (demineralization) when acids formed by plaque bacteria and sugars attack the tooth’s outer, enamel layer. But minerals including fluoride are also redeposited (remineralization) from certain foods and water.
When there’s too much loss, without enough redeposit, the tooth gets a cavity.
What is the Best Way to Apply Fluoride?
The very best results come from using a fluoride “varnish” because it does the best job of coating the teeth and lasts the longest. In the past gels and foams were the best available. Because our team is constantly studying and stays on top of what science shows to be the most effective treatments for you, we have upgraded the application technique we use.
What’s The Right Amount of Fluoride?
The right dose varies with the amount of fluoride in the water in any particular town. Talk to us and we’ll help you decide if home or office fluoride is right for you and your family.
The right amount of toothpaste is the size of a pea. Stick to that amount.
Store any prescription fluoride supplements high and away from the reach of children.
If I Drink Bottled Water, Will I Get Enough Fluoride?
Generally you can assume that there is no fluoride in bottled water and if you drink only bottled water then you should talk to us about supplementing with dietary fluoride tablets.
What about Home Water Treatment Systems?
It depends on the filtration system. Steam distillation systems remove 100% of fluoride content. Reverse osmosis systems remove between 65% and 95% of the fluoride. On the other hand, water softeners and charcoal/carbon filters generally do not remove fluoride (although some activated carbon filters contain activated alumina that may remove over 80% of the fluoride).
How Do I Know How Much Fluoride Is In My Home Water?
You can also contact your local or state health department, or contact your local water supplier. Information for contacting your local water supplier should be on your water bill or see the "local government" section of your phone book.
Approximately 62% of the U.S. population served by public water supplies has access to adequate levels of fluoride in their water, and 43 of the 50 largest U.S. cities have water fluoridation systems.