Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and water. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. In our everyday life, minerals are added to and lost from a tooth’s enamel layer through two processes, demineralization and remineralization. Demineralization occurs when the minerals are lost from the tooth’s enamel layer when acids formed from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth attack the enamel. Fluoride treatments can help remineralize the areas of the enamel that have lost minerals from the enamel layer. Too much demineralization without enough remineralization to repair the enamel layer leads to tooth decay.
Where can I get fluoride? Fluoride can be found in many things such as food, water, toothpaste, mouth rinse, and treatments given to you by your dentist. If you are a patient that tends to have a lot of cavities, a fluoride toothpaste prescription can be given to you by your dentist.
Who should use fluoride? For children, the most critical time for a child to be exposed to fluoride is 6 months to 16 years old, because this is the time that primary and permanent teeth come in. Adults also can benefit from using fluoride to help remineralize their teeth, and keep them strong. Also people that suffer from dry mouth, gum disease, history of frequent cavities, and patients with braces can benefit strongly from fluoride treatments.
Is it safe? Yes, fluoride is very safe when used a directed. When children under the age of 6 are using a product with fluoride like toothpaste or a mouth rinse, they should be monitored by an adult to insure the child is using the product as directed. If a child gets excess fluoride, it can cause defects in the tooth’s enamel that range from barely noticeable, white specks or streaks, to brown discoloration. These defects are known as fluorosis, and can occur when the teeth are forming usually around the ages of 6 years old and under. However, most over the counter products have a low level of fluoride, and would be hard to reach excess amounts of fluoride.