Fluoride: What exactly is topical fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral that is found in all-natural water sources and is the ionic form of the trace element fluorine, which is commonly found in the environment; fluorine reaches water sources by leaching from soil and rocks into groundwater.
Fluoride is used to help strengthen your teeth through the application of topical fluoride during your dentist appointment or through local programs to provide additional fluoride through tap water.
What are the benefits of topical fluoride for your teeth?
Your teeth are in a continuous cycle of demineralization and remineralization.
Demineralization occurs as your teeth lose the minerals that help keep them strong. This happens when acids (formed by plaque and bacteria in the mouth) attack the enamel.
During remineralization, minerals like calcium, phosphate, and fluoride are redeposited to the enamel when we drink water or eat certain mineral-rich foods.
When teeth aren’t sufficiently remineralized, either by consumption or professional treatments, they can begin to experience tooth decay.
Fluoride, then, helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acid. In some cases, it can also help reverse decay that has already begun.
For children under six years old, fluoride becomes incorporated into the developing permanent teeth, making it more difficult for acids to demineralize them.
Is there a time when it is most important to be exposed to fluoride?
It is important for infants and children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years to be exposed to fluoride. It is during this period of time that new teeth are emerging and require extra strengthening.
This doesn't mean that as an adult you don't need remineralization. Topical fluoride from toothpaste, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatments are as important in fighting tooth decay as they are for strengthening developing teeth.
What can you expect from fluoride treatments at the dentist's office?
While foods and water with added minerals can be helpful, there may be times when professional mineral applications may be necessary.
While toothpaste and mouthwashes with added fluoride can be helpful, the amount of fluoride in these is not substantial.
Stronger concentrations are available by prescription, and your dentist can also apply fluoride treatment in stronger concentrations at your dental clinic.
Fluoride treatment at your dental clinic will typically be a one-time application of a gel, foam, or varnish solution. Varnishes are painted on the teeth, while foams are put into a dental tray and then applied to the teeth for a few minutes. Gels can either be painted on or applied via a tray.