How Can Dental Fluoride Help Protect Teeth From Decay?
Dental fluoride combines with the minerals in your teeth to form a stronger, more acid resistant enamel. Acids produced by plaque on your teeth start to break down the minerals in your tooth enamel. A process called de-mineralization then begins. De-mineralization starts by weakening the enamel and leads to small cavities at first, but can progress into large areas of decay and eventual tooth loss. The very early stage of demineralization can be reversed by remineralizing the enamel. This can occur by introducing dental fluoride into the enamel.
There are two ways that fluoride works to protect tooth enamel – systemically and topically.
- Systemically, fluoride works when teeth are developing in babies and children – replacing some of the crystals in developing enamel with more decay resistant crystals containing fluoride. Systemic fluoride is ingested in fluoridated water, foods or supplements prescribed by a dentist or pediatrician. These systemic sources of fluoride help to assure that a child’s teeth come in strong and decay resistant.
- Most toothpaste and mouthwash contains topical fluoride. It works from the outside of the tooth when you brush and rinse. Your dental office can also administer topical fluoride treatments. These occur in higher concentrations, and less often. When you use topical fluoride daily at home, in low concentrations, you can re-mineralize weakened enamel and strengthen the structure of your enamel. Clinical studies show that brushing thoroughly twice a day with fluoride containing products prevent tooth decay. We recommend you use fluoride toothpastes and mouthwashes throughout your life. Talk to your child’s dentist about how to help them brush with very small amounts of fluoride toothpaste until they are old enough to spit rather than ingest the toothpaste.
Other Ways That Dental Fluoride Can Help Prevent Cavities
Saliva contains a very low level of fluoride. As a result, drinking fluoridated water and using products with fluoride can help with re-mineralization. As it bathes the teeth, it acts as a natural method for cleansing.
Besides re-mineralizing teeth systemically and topically, fluoride also helps prevent cavities by affecting the bacteria in plaque. This makes it less able to produce the acids that cause decay.