Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and water. Everyday, minerals are added and lost from a tooth’s enamel layer through two processes; demineralization and remineralization. Minerals are lost from a tooth’s enamel layer when acids, formed from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth, attach to the enamel. Minerals such as Fluoride, Calcium and Phosphate are redeposited to the enamel layer from the foods and water consumed. Too much demineralization without enough mineralization to repair the enamel layer leads to tooth decay.
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acids attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It also reverses early decay as well. In children under 6 years of age fluoride becomes incorporated into the development of permanent teeth making it more difficult for acids to demineralize the teeth. Fluoride also helps the reminerlization process as well, disrupting acid production in already erupted teeth in both children and adults.
Fluoride can also be applied directly to the teeth through fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses. Mouth rinses containing fluoride in lower strengths are available over-the-counter with stronger concentrations requiring a doctors prescription. A dentist can also apply fluoride as a gel, foam, or varnish. These treatments contain a much higher dosage of fluoride then the amount found in tooth pastes and mouth rinses. Varnishes are painted on the teeth, foams are put into a tray which is applied to the teeth for one to four months; gels can be painted on or applied with a custom tray.
For children between six and sixteen years, fluoride treatments are very important because this is when permanent teeth come into place. However it is known that everyone benefits from fluoride treatments because of its ability to fight tooth decay. Additionally because some patients may have specific conditions that could increase their chances of acquiring tooth decay, fluoride treatments can be extremely important. Some of these conditions that fluoride can play a major role in prevention include:
Dry mouth conditions, caused by certain diseases, medications, and head and neck radiations treatments make a patient more prone to tooth decay.
Gum disease, also known as Gingivitis, can expose more of your teeth and tooth roots to bacteria increasing the chance of tooth decay.
A history of frequent cavities: If you have one or more cavities annually, fluoride treatments should be considered.
Crown, bridges, or braces: The risk of decay is more prevalent at the point where the crown meets the underlying tooth or around the brackets of orthodontic applications.
When used as instructed fluoride is safe and very effective. However, high dosages can be hazardous. High dosage toxicity levels vary based on an individuals weight. For this reason it is very important that parents play an active role in supervising their children’s usage of all fluoride containing products, especially under the age of six.
Excess fluoride can cause defects in the tooth’s enamel that range from barely noticeable white specks or streaks to cosmetically objectionable brown discoloration. These defects are known as fluorosis and occur when the teeth are forming, usually in children under six year’s of age. Fluorosis is usually associated with naturally occurring fluoride as found in well water for example. Although staining from fluorosis cannot be removed with normal hygiene, your dentist may be able to lighten or remove the stains with professional strength abrasives and bleaches.
However it should be noted that because home products contain fluoride in such low dosages, it would be extremely rare to reach hazardous levels.
The American Dental Association suggests that most bottled waters do not contain optimal levels of fluoride that would normally be found in communities with fluoridated water. Check the back of the water bottle, contact the bottled water manufacturer or have you water tested to determine actual levels of fluoride.
Home water treatment systems can also affect fluoride levels. Steam distillation systems remove 100% of fluoride; Reverse osmosis between 65 to 95%; However water softeners and charcoal/carbon filters generally do not remove fluoride. One exception is some activated carbon filters that contain activated alumina which can remove 80% of fluoride.