Fluoride is most effective in preventing tooth decay. It is a mineral that is naturally present in varying amounts in almost all foods and water supplies. The benefits of fluoride are well known and its use as a preventative measure is advocated by numerous health and professional organisations.
How fluoride works
Fluoride can reach and strengthen teeth in one of two ways:
Topical fluoride is found in toothpastes, mouth rinses or gels. It strengthens teeth by making the outer surface of tooth enamel harder and more resistant to decay. When needed, dentists and oral hygienists will apply topical fluoride gels to teeth during regular dental visits.
Systemic fluoride reaches teeth from drinking water and most foods. It can also be taken as a dietary supplement in drop or gel form and will be prescribed by your dentist when needed. Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for infants. Tablets are best suited for children up through the teen years.
It is very important not to give supplementary fluoride to children without consulting a dentist. It is equally important to monitor the amounts of fluoride a child ingests. If too much fluoride is consumed while the teeth are developing, a condition called fluorosis (white spots on the teeth) may result.
Systemic fluoride strengthens the teeth while they are developing inside the gums, by hardening tooth enamel and making it more resistant to decay.
Most people receive sufficient fluoride from food and water. However, in special cases this is not enough to help prevent decay. Your dentist or oral hygienist may recommend the use of home and/or professional fluoride treatments for the following reasons:
- Deep pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth.
- Exposed and sensitive root surfaces.
- Fair to poor oral hygiene habits.
- Frequent sugar and carbohydrate intake.
- Inadequate exposure to fluorides.
- Inadequate saliva flow due to medical conditions, medical treatments or medications.
- Recent history of dental decay.
Remember, fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay. It is important to brush at least twice a day, floss regularly, eat balanced meals, reduce sugary snacks and visit your dentist on a regular basis.