Patients have a very sceptical outlook about the beneficial effects of Fluoride on the teeth. I will try to clear some doubts and provide a clearer picture. Let us start:
What is Fluoride and How does it protect our teeth?
1. A fluoride is an ionic form of the mineral fluorine.
2. Fluoride protects teeth in two ways:
- Systemic fluorides are those ingested into the body. During tooth formation, ingested fluorides become incorporated into tooth structures. Fluorides ingested regularly during the time when teeth are developing (pre-eruptive) are deposited throughout the entire tooth surface and provide longer-lasting protection than those applied topically. Systemic fluorides can also give topical protection because ingested fluoride is present in saliva, which continually bathes the teeth providing a reservoir of fluoride that can be incorporated into the tooth surface to prevent decay.
- Topical fluorides strengthen teeth already present in the mouth (post-eruptively). In this method of delivery, fluoride is incorporated into the surface of teeth making them more decay-resistant. Topically applied fluoride provides local protection on the tooth surface. Topical fluorides include toothpaste, mouth rinses and professionally applied fluoride foams, gels and varnishes.
Fluoride has beneficial effects when used in optimum quantity and detrimental effects when used in excess.
Fluoride helps the tooth prevent decay:
- In children under 6 years of age, fluoride strengthens the teeth by making the enamel (outer most layer of the teeth) prisms stronger and thus making it difficult for the acids to demineralize the teeth.
- Reverses early tooth decay.
- Helps speed remineralization (addition of minerals) as well as disrupts acid production in already erupted teeth of children and adults.
- In adults with lots of crowns with leaky margins, areas of tooth erosion, or areas of abstraction (damaged areas of teeth with exposed dentin) then fluoride treatment can make these areas stronger, more resistant to decay, and less sensitive to hot and cold.
How is Fluoride beneficial?
Every day our teeth's outermost layer called enamel loses and gains minerals. When the plaque and sugars in the mouth attack the enamel, minerals are lost (demineralization) and minerals such as fluoride, calcium and phosphate are redeposited (remineralization) to the enamel through the food and water we consume. The high rate of demineralization followed by a low rate of remineralization leads to tooth decay.
What is Dental Fluorosis?
In young children excess fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, typically a harmless cosmetic discolouring or mottling of the enamel, visible as chalky white specks and lines or pitted and brown stained enamel on teeth. This is usually associated with naturally occurring fluoride, such as found in a well water.
How can your Dentist help you?
Fluoride is critically important for children aged 6-16 years since that is the time when the primary and permanent teeth erupt in, however it is recommended for adults too.
In addition to the systemic fluoride, your dentist can also help provide fluoride to your teeth by topical application of a fluoride gel, foam or varnish. It requires one visit to the dentist and may take a few minutes to complete the treatment. The dentist applies topical fluoride directly on the teeth surfaces or on foam trays and leaves it on the teeth for 4-5 minutes. The fluoride forms a layer on the teeth and is absorbed into the enamel. For best results, this treatment should be repeated every 6 months by children as well as adults.