What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral commonly known for its ability to help strengthen teeth an fight cavities. Fluoride is present in rocks and soils all over the world and found in nearly all fresh and salt water sources… in fact, fluoride is the 13th most abundant element on the earth! In high enough concentrations, fluoride can be toxic but at lower doses, fluoride has a tremendous ability lower the rate of cavity formation in teeth.
In the early 1900’s, curious dental researches began to report that most children born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado had dark brown stains on their teeth. What we now know to be fluorosis – caused by too much fluoride in the water supply – was a mystery to most of the dental community.
As more attention was paid to these patients with severe staining it became evident that these children were also highly resistant to cavities. Continued research eventually identified the fluoride mineral naturally found in the Rocky Mountain water supply to be both the cause of the brown staining and the low rate of cavities found in the patients in these areas. Years of study were able to find optimal concentrations where the cavity preventing effects could be achieved without the brown staining.
How does fluoride help teeth?
Fluoride has several beneficial affects on teeth. When fluoride is present in the mouth, it is deposited in a very thin layer on the surface of teeth. This layer aids in repairing and strengthening the tooth by helping to attract minerals like calcium back into the tooth.
Additionally, fluoride can be incorporated into the mineral structure of the tooth itself. This new combination of tooth and fluoride is stronger than a natural tooth and even more resistant to the acids that cause breakdown of teeth. Teeth strengthened with fluoride are less sensitive and the presence of fluoride is know to keep away the bacteria that cause cavities. Research has demonstrated that a topical fluoride varnish placed at your dentist office reduces the number cavity causing bacteria ten-fold!
What is a topical fluoride treatment?
Topical fluoride treatment is an application of prescription strength fluoride onto your teeth by your dentist, assistant or hygienist. Older therapies involved trays with foam or rinses but contemporary fluoride therapy uses a “varnish” that sticks to the teeth and supplies the surface of your teeth with fluoride for days after your visit. The application takes less than one minute and does not cause any sensitivity or pain.
Who needs topical fluoride treatments?
We typically recommend topical fluoride treatments for all patients. You can think of fluoride as like a vitamin for your teeth… and regular application at your dental visits can help keep teeth strong and reduce your risk of cavities.
Young and old patients, patients with increased risk of cavities, patients taking medicine which may cause dry mouth, cancer patients, diabetics, or patients with fillings, crowns or partial dentures should have regular fluoride applications. We are particularly conscious about the way prescription medications for things like blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or other systemic conditions can impact the quantity and quality of saliva in the mouth. Because of dry mouth, these patients are at increased risk for cavities or breakdown of teeth and can benefit greatly from fluoride applications.
Occasionally, if you have a prevalence of cavities that are too small to drill, your dentist may recommend several fluoride applications over the course of a month or more to help remineralize the teeth and avoid conventional fillings.
Are professional fluoride treatments safe?
Yes, absolutely! The safety and efficacy of both community water fluoridation and professional topical application have been well studied and documented extensively. The CDC called community water fluoridation one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Many patients have questions as to the safety of topical or water fluoridation.
We encourage all patients to ask questions and be curious about what products or medicines they are using, but patients should also be vigilant and discerning about the credibility of various sources of information on these matters. Please ask your dentist what the benefits and risks are of any potential treatment… and don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
We also reiterate that the safety and efficacy of prescription strength topical fluoride has only been established for trusted brands available from your local dental office. Topical treatments available online for at home application have not been tested and may not be from a reputable source. Only use over-the-counter products that carry the American Dental Associations seal of approval.