You’re likely also offered fluoride treatments when you visit your dentist for regular exams and cleanings. These treatments help protect your teeth, but many people aren’t aware of the full benefits of fluoride and how it delivers them. Here is everything you need to know.
How Fluoride Helps Prevent Tooth Decay
You’ve likely heard that fluoride helps prevent cavities, but what does that mean? Cavities are the result of tooth decay. Bacteria in your mouth release acidic compounds, which wear away at your tooth enamel. Eventually, this creates a noticeable hole or pit in your tooth called a cavity.
Cavity development starts long before you notice a hole or any increase in sensitivity. The first step is when the bacteria wear away the minerals that keep your enamel strong. At this point, you might notice a discolored spot on a tooth under close inspection, but the actual shape of the tooth is still intact.
While eroded tooth enamel can’t be recovered, it is possible to remineralize enamel and prevent tooth decay from advancing past that first stage. This is where fluoride comes into the picture.
Fluoride has a high affinity for other minerals. When minerals are removed from your enamel, molecule-sized gaps are left in the structure. Fluoride attaches to those gaps and draws calcium and phosphate toward itself. This increases the rate that those minerals integrate into the structure of your teeth, reversing the first stage of tooth decay.
This isn’t just something that happens in theory but also shows proven results in practice. Fluoride treatments from your dentist have a clear beneficial impact. Having two fluoride treatments annually reduces the rate of decayed, missing, and filled teeth in children and adolescents by 43%.1
Are Fluoride Treatments Safe?
The safety of fluoride is one of the most important topics around its applications. Much of that concern comes from misconceptions. Fluoride treatment and other applications are safe and effective, providing significant long-term oral health benefits.
One of the biggest health concerns around fluoride is dental fluorosis. This is a condition where too much fluoride can affect the appearance of teeth. Dental fluorosis results in intrinsic stains, deep stains that conventional whitening methods can’t fix.
Dental fluorosis can only affect teeth when they are still forming. Children under eight can accumulate fluoride in their adult teeth before they emerge. Children should use only a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste when brushing.
However, the American Dental Association says there is little to no risk of dental fluorosis developing from the fluoride treatments you receive from your dentist, even among patients under six.2 These treatments only occur every six months, which is too infrequent for dental fluorosis to develop.
Risks Associated with Tooth Decay
If you skip over fluoride treatments and other preventive dentistry procedures, you’re at a higher risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. As the tooth decay progresses, you can experience increased sensitivity and pain as less enamel protects the inner layers of your tooth.
Eventually, tooth decay can expose the inner layers of your tooth and present the risk of infection. You may then require a root canal treatment to save the tooth. You may also need a dental crown to restore the chewing surface after treatment and protect against further tooth decay.
Different Types of Applications
With such clear benefits, fluoride has been implemented in various ways. This helps ensure that everyone has access to fluoride’s tooth decay prevention.
Treatments from Your Dentist
When you visit your dentist for a regular appointment every six months, you will likely receive fluoride treatment during your appointment. This treatment uses a fluoride varnish applied to your teeth and left to absorb for several minutes.
The treatment is applied by a professional and only used once every six months, so it uses the highest fluoride concentration you’ll likely encounter. Fluoride treatment can accomplish significant remineralization, which provides lasting protection against tooth decay.
It’s important to note that fluoride treatment isn’t an alternative to effective oral hygiene. While fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, brushing and flossing your teeth twice daily is still essential.
Toothpaste and Other Products
Unless you seek out a toothpaste that doesn’t have fluoride, the toothpaste you use daily contains a small concentration of fluoride. You can see the concentration listed on the tube and other active ingredient details.
These concentrations are much lower than the treatment you receive at your dentist. They deliver less remineralization but are incredibly effective when you use them every day. This toothpaste lets you fight tooth decay on an ongoing basis, preventing cavities during the time between treatments from your dentist.
Many types of mouthwash also contain some fluoride, some with higher concentrations and explicitly marketed for cavity and tooth decay prevention. You can also find at-home fluoride varnishes that work similarly to in-office treatment but at lower concentrations.
For households drinking water from a municipal source, chances are your water has small amounts of fluoride added during water treatment. In the US, 73% of the population has fluoridated tap water.3
While drinking may sound off-putting and against instructions for other applications, water fluoridation relies on minimal concentrations. Ingestion at that concentration has no adverse effects, while frequent contact with low concentrations still helps protect your teeth.
Protect Your Teeth with Preventive Care in Webster, NY
You can proactively stop tooth decay and other dental issues by trusting Empire Dental Care for your preventive dentistry needs. We provide regular exams and cleanings, treatments, and other procedures that prevent tooth decay and maintain oral health — all with a gentle touch. Book your appointment today. Or give us a call at 585-671-1650.