The most effective force to help prevent tooth decay is fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present in varying amounts in almost all foods and water supplies. Fluoride benefits have been well known worldwide for over 50 years, and are supported by many professional health organizations.
There are two ways in which fluoride works. They are as follows:
Topical fluoride strengthens the teeth once they are grown and fully erupted by being taken up by the enamel, altering its composition and thereby making the teeth more resistant to decay. We generally use topical fluoride daily by using dental products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses, and gels that contain fluoride. Dentists and dental hygienists generally recommend that children and certain adults have a professional application of fluoride twice a year during regular dental check-ups.
Systemic fluoride assists in the growth, and strengthens the teeth that have erupted as well as those that are developing under the gums. We use systemic fluoride from most foods and our community water supplies. A stronger potency is also available as a supplement in drop or gel form and can be prescribed by your dentist or physician. Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for infants, while tablets are best suited for children up through the teenage years. Keep in mind the importance of monitoring the amounts of fluoride a child ingests. If too much fluoride is consumed while the teeth are developing, a condition called Fluorosis (white spots on the teeth) may result.
While most people receive fluoride from regular food and water consumption, sometimes it is not enough to help prevent decay. Your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend the use of home and/or professional fluoride treatments for the following reasons:
Deep pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth
Exposed and sensitive root surfaces
Fair to poor oral hygiene habits
Frequent sugar and carbohydrate intake
Inadequate exposure to fluorides
Inadequate saliva flow due to medical conditions, medical treatments or medications
Recent history of dental decay
Remember, fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay! It is important to brush at least twice a day, floss regularly, eat balanced meals, reduce sugary snacks, and visit your dentist on a regular basis.