We have probably all been to the dentist for a cleaning and have been recommended for a fluoride treatment for ourselves or for our children. What is fluoride anyway? What does it do? Is it necessary?
All teeth are covered in a strong enamel. This enamel gives them the shiny white appearance, but more importantly, it protects the softer tooth material underneath. When a tooth has a cavity, it is because bacteria has gotten through this enamel and has started digging a hole in this softer tooth material. The bacteria come from a sticky layer of plaque that is left on the tooth. Plaque, if it is not brushed away, produces an acid that will erode the tooth enamel and damage the gums. If the cavity hole goes deep enough it can even harm nerves and blood in the core of the tooth.
Facts on Flouride
Fluoride is a natural mineral. It supports healthy enamel on teeth and fights bacteria that can attack the teeth and gums. It helps to build strong teeth and to prevent cavities. When the enamel on the teeth is healthy, it is more difficult for cavities to form.
Fluoride is found naturally in many items such as fish and tea. It is also added to most baby formulas. Fluoride is found in many toothpastes. These sources are beneficial to the teeth, but the fluoride is in a minimal amount. A fluoride treatment at the dentist is a much more concentrated type of fluoride.
Fluoride is actually also found in drinking water. Before the benefits were fully known, fluoride was one of the minerals that water companies filtered out of the water that we drink in our homes. When its benefits were discovered, this practice changed. The American Dental Association (ADA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that trace amounts of fluoride remain present in drinking water. Whether you drink tap water, city water, well water, water treatment system water, or bottled water, if you are interested in the fluoride amount in your drinking water, you can have it tested.
When a patient receives a fluoride treatment, it is in a form of a highly concentrated rinse, gel, or varnish. It may be applied like a paint with a brush or swab. It also may be in a mouthwash. The fluoride may be in a tray that sets in the mouth and the patient gently bites on. The treatment takes only a few minutes. You may be asked to avoid eating or drinking anything for 30 minutes after treatment in order to allow the fluoride to fully absorb.
Most dental insurance covers a fluoride treatment for children on a recommended basis. Adults, however, may have to pay out of pocket. Of course, there are also co-pays and deductibles involved. It is best to ask your dentist about the cost before you agree to any treatment.
When Should I Have a Fluoride Treatment?
The ADA recommends a professional fluoride treatment every 3, 6, or 12 months. This is dependent on your oral health. This is why it is important that your dentist is aware of your oral health history and your current oral health situations. If you are at a high risk for cavities, for example, you may need fluoride more often, and you may even be prescribed a fluoride rinse to use at home.
There are many things that may lead to an increased risk for cavities such as poor oral hygiene practices, lack of proper professional dental care, weak enamel, drug or alcohol use, an eating disorder, a poor diet, or chronic dry mouth. If you have a history of frequent cavities, then you are possibly at risk for more. Existing dental work, such as fillings, caps, crowns, bridges or even orthodontics can lead to an increase risk for cavities. Radiation therapy is another risk to our teeth and should be addressed by the doctor giving radiation and by your dentist.
The ADA recommends that we get fluoride in two ways; topically and systemically. Topical fluoride comes from toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental fluoride treatments. Systemic fluoride comes from what we intake such as water, fish, tea, or fluoride supplements. This means we should all brush our teeth twice daily to remove plaque and we should use fluoride toothpaste. We should receive minimal fluoride from our water and foods. We should have regular fluoride treatments as recommended by our dentist.
Children and Fluoride
Fluoride benefits both children and adults, but the earlier children are exposed to fluoride, the less likely they are to develop cavities, In fact, the Cochrane Study in 2002 found that adolescents who received fluoride treatments for one year were 43% less likely to have tooth decay and cavities.
Like anything else, too much of a good thing can be bad for us. Too much fluoride can cause complications. This can happen by accidentally using too much fluoride or being prescribed too high of a dose. Fluorosis can occur when too much fluoride leaves white specks, streaks, or dark marks on the tooth.
Fluoride poisoning is possible but is exceedingly rare. Symptoms might include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, or excessive sweating. Although rare, fluoride poisoning could lead to death.
Chronic exposure, though, especially in young children, can be harmful. Fluoride can harm developing bones and teeth. For this reason, many children’s toothpastes do not contain fluoride. Most dentists will wait for a child to be a certain age before suggesting fluoride treatments.
The Bottom Line
Oral health can have great impact on our body and can impact our overall health. It is essential to care for our mouths. Most important will always be to brush your teeth twice per day for at least 2 minutes each time, using fluoride toothpaste if your dentist recommends it. We should floss properly once each day. We should not smoke and should avoid sugary snacks and beverages. We should visit a board-certified dentist at least once per year.
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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.