Fluoride is an important tool in making sure children’s teeth grow extra strong and healthy. Here, our Burnaby dentists explain why and when fluoride treatment is necessary.
Let’s start with the basics: what is fluoride, exactly?
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods, as well as in water. It is also found throughout the Earth’s crust, and is widely distributed in nature.
In the 1930s, researchers discovered that people who grew up drinking water that was naturally fluoridated had up to 2/3 fewer cavities than those who grew up drinking water that was not fluoridated.
As a result, these days fluoride is often added to water supplies to help strength the teeth of the general population, helping to prevent dental decay on a large scale.
How does fluoride work?
Fluoride helps prevent cavities in two ways:
- It concentrates in the growing bones and teeth of children, hardening the enamel of baby and adult teeth before the erupt.
- It helps harden the enamel on adult teeth that have already erupted as well.
Fluoride works during the demineralization and remineralization process inside your mouth. After you finish eating, your saliva contains acids that cause “demineralization”, a dissolution of the calcium and phosphorous under the surface of the teeth.
During other times, when your saliva is less acidic, it has the opposite effect, replenishing the calcium and phosphorous (remineralization).
This is where fluoride comes into play. When it is present during the remineralization process, the minerals that are deposited are harder than they would be without it. This helps make teeth stronger, and minimizes the effects of demineralization during the next phase.
How do I know if I’m getting enough fluoride?
You can find out if your community water is fluoridated by contacting your local water district.
If your community water is fluoridated, then drinking that water and brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste is considered sufficient for children and adults with healthy teeth.
If your water is not fluoridated (or doesn’t have enough fluoride), your dentist may recommend fluoride treatment.
What kinds of fluoride treatments are available?
You dentist will be able to tell you how much fluoride is right for your and your children, and recommend appropriate treatment, depending on your needs. She may recommend any of the following:
- Mouth Rinses & Toothpastes: low fluoride concentration formulas are available for purchase at most pharmacies. Higher concentrations are available via prescription by your dentist.
- In-Office Gel, Varnish or Foam Treatments: These treatments contain a much higher amount of fluoride than what is found in rinses or toothpastes. They are applied at your dentist’s office by a qualified dental professional.
- Fluoride Supplements: Fluoride supplements are available in tablet or liquid format, by prescription only.
When is fluoride intake most beneficial?
Fluoride intake is generally considered essential for the healthy oral development of infants, and children between the ages of 6 and 16, because these are the times during which the baby and adult teeth are developing and erupting.
However, adult teeth that have already erupted can also benefit from fluoride treatment, so no matter your age, be sure to discuss fluoride intake with your dentist!