November 2012 articles

The Facts About Fluoride

It can be in your toothpaste, your mouthwash and even your water. In fact, fluoridated H20 has even been called one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century.1 But what makes it such a miracle mineral? Fluoride is a natural substance that helps teeth resist demineralization (the tooth decay process), which happens when acids made by bacteria in your mouth attack and damage tooth enamel over a period of time. Even better, fluoride can help remineralize teeth and reverse the very early stages of decay.2 Luckily, most people don’t have to worry about not getting enough fluoride. Between drinking fluoridated community water and brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, most of us get the daily fluoride we need. In the U.S., about 75 percent of people who get their water from a community water system have properly fluoridated water.3 This means that any time you use the tap to get a glass of water or drink coffee, tea or any other beverage prepared using fluoridated water, your teeth get bathed with a bit of fluoride. Fluoride makes developing teeth strong, but the bigger benefit comes from application on adult teeth. Using a small amount of fluoride several times a day in toothpaste, rinses, and even from drinking your fluoridated tap water can help remineralize teeth. If your community doesn’t fluoridate the water or if you prefer to hydrate via bottled water instead of the faucet4, you may want to check with your dentist to evaluate your risk for tooth decay and to see if additional fluoride can help. If your dentist determines that you or your children need more fluoride and are at high risk for tooth decay, you have several options.

  • Depending on your age and needs, your dentist may paint your teeth with professional strength varnish, gel or foam. This option is best for kids 18 or under, patients with several cavities and decay, orthodontic appliance wearers and people who suffer from dry mouth.2 Topical fluoride treatments are not recommended for adults or children who are at low risk for tooth decay.5
  • Similar to at-home teeth whitening, your dentist can prescribe high strength fluoride gel that you put in custom-fit dental trays and apply to teeth as necessary if you are at high risk for decay.2
  • If your community water isn’t fluoridated or if your child only drinks bottled water, consult with your dentist if you think your young child isn’t getting enough fluoride he or she may prescribe fluoride drops or supplements depending on your child’s age and needs.6

Getting too much of a good thing An over-the-counter fluoridated rinse might be helpful for adults and older kids, but should not be given to children under the age of six since young children will likely swallow it instead of rinsing and spitting. For the same reason, small children should not use fluoridated toothpaste until they are at least 2 years old7 unless otherwise directed by your dentist. Excessive fluoride consumption can make a child nauseous, cause vomiting or diarrhea. Only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is needed on the brush even after 2 years old. Additionally, if children consume too much fluoride over a long period of time while their teeth are developing, the teeth may come in with faint white spots known as dental fluorosis. There is no danger of fluorosis once teeth have fully developed in the mouth.


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