Fluoride is a mineral that can be found naturally in foods and water. Every time a person consumes sugary foods and drinks, the mouth goes under an acid attack because of the byproducts of bacteria. This acidic environment contributes to demineralization. Demineralization is when minerals are lost from the tooth’s enamel when it’s being attacked by sugars and acids found in plaque and debris in the mouth.
Minerals such as fluoride, calcium and phosphate are essential to remineralize the tooth, or build up the enamel layer again. Too much demineralization without enough remineralization to repair the enamel is when the tooth starts to break down and is commonly known as tooth decay.
Fluoride helps the tooth be in a constant state of remineralization and helps prevent tooth decay because the tooth is more resistant to acid attacks from plaque, bacteria and sugars in the mouth. While decay is irreversible because enamel cannot be regrown, fluoride does help the decay “stop in its tracks” and not continue to grow any further.
In children under 6 years old, fluoride in tablet form or in water can change the way a tooth forms. A child who has fluoride in his or her diet will develop teeth with less grooves and fissures. The anatomy of the tooth will be smoother and in the long run, this will keep the tooth from being at a high risk for developing cavities.
What form is fluoride available in?
Fluoride can be found in foods and water, as mentioned earlier. It can also be directly applied to the teeth by gels, toothpastes, rinses, etc. Different concentrations of fluoride are available. Lower concentrations are available over the counter, but stronger concentrations require a doctor’s prescription.
Dentists also apply fluoride during appointments in the form of foam, varnish or gels. These treatments have a much higher concentration than in toothpastes and gels at the store. Dentists can also prescribe fluoride supplements in tablet or liquid form.
Although fluoride is a good thing, too much can be bad at a young age when teeth are still forming. Fluoride overexposure, called dental fluorosis, affects about 40 percent of Americans. Fluorosis is a defect in the enamel caused by fluorides interference with the tooth-forming cells. Dental fluorosis makes the teeth look cloudy or spotted and streaky. In more severe cases of fluoride overexposure, brown stains can appear. Be cautious about giving children under the age of 2 fluoride and discuss any questions or concerns with a pediatric dentist. However, for older children, teens and adults, fluoride has great dental benefits and can help fight cavities.