Dental decay is a common condition all over the world. One way to help prevent cavities from occurring is through the use of fluoride. Fluoride helps harden the tooth enamel and make it more resistant to tooth decay. A small cavity can be stopped and even reversed by the remineralization process enhanced by fluoride.
Fluoride can be delivered to the teeth in two ways: topically (direct contact on the teeth) and systemically (enters the blood stream).
Systemic fluoride is delivered to the tooth surface via the bloodstream. Systemic fluoride can be derived from a food source, water source, or dietary supplements (pill, tablet, lozenge, drop). Fluoridated water is an effective way to reduce the problem of dental decay. It has been shown that fluoridated water and dietary supplements can reduce up to 60% of tooth decay.
Some water supplies naturally contain fluoride, but for others fluoride is added to the water supply. If you would like to know if your community’s water supply contains fluoride, call your local water or health department.
Children from birth to 16 years of age will benefit the most from systemic fluoride. Sixteen is currently the age at which the American Dental Association recommends children can discontinue fluoride vitamin supplements. This is because when fluoride is ingested, it circulates through the bloodstream and into developing teeth. The fluoride is then built into the enamel structure of the developing tooth, making the tooth more resistant to acids.
Even though the benefits of fluoride are maximized before the teeth erupt (come in), fluoride is still very beneficial for children and adults after the teeth are fully erupted. Topical fluorides are applied directly to the tooth structure to delay or slow down the tooth decay process.
- Topical forms of fluoride include:
- Toothpaste – used daily, must have an ADA or CDA Seal of Acceptance on the label.
- Professional fluoride application – this is a gel that is applied for 1 to 4 minutes, usually in a tray at the end of a dental appointment. Not everyone is given a professional fluoride application; it depends on your oral health needs.
- Fluoridated home mouthrinses – can be purchased over-the-counter and used for children over 6 years of age and adults who are susceptible to cavities.
- Home care fluoride gels – applied by trays or by brush, these gels are for those who are highly susceptible to cavities. These people would include:
- Adults with a high incidence of root cavities.
- Those who experience an extremely dry mouth.
- People who wear braces or orthodontic appliances.
- Those who have rampant or excessive cavities.
- Even though the benefits of fluoride are maximized before the teeth erupt, fluoride is still very beneficial as a daily defense against decay. Fluoride gels can be purchased over-the-counter or by prescription. Ask us for a daily home fluoride program that is individualized for your needs.
- Fluoride is very effective in controlling dental decay when used properly. If not used in the proper doses, fluoride toxicity and dental fluorosis can occur.
- Fluoride toxicity occurs when large amounts of fluoride are ingested over a short period of time. This can be dangerous to your health.
- Symptoms of fluoride toxicity may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, increased salivation or increased thirst.
- These symptoms generally begin 30 minutes after ingestion and can last up to 24 hours.
- Depending on the amount of the toxic overdose of fluoride, certain emergency procedures should be implemented. If you feel nausea, drink milk or try to induce vomiting and call us or physician. If these symptoms do not subside, or the conditions worsen (difficulty breathing), call an emergency service to transport you to the hospital.
- Dental fluorosis is an excess of fluoride intake during the stages of tooth development. Dental fluorosis ranges from mild (white specks on teeth) to severe (brown staining and pitting of enamel).
To ensure your child does not experience any adverse effects from fluoride, follow these basic rules:
- Fluoridated products should not be swallowed.
- Only a small amount of toothpaste, the size of a small pea, is needed for a child.
- Fluoridated products, especially mouthrinses should not be given to a child under 6 years of age, or to anyone who cannot rinse and spit ( those you suspect are swallowing some of the product).
- Keep fluoridated products out of reach of children.
- Parental supervision is needed for children when brushing or using any fluoridated substances.