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How Do Fluoride Treatments Work?

We recommend fluoride treatments to many of our patients at Designer Smiles, both adults and children.  Because fluoride is often misunderstood, we will explain some important details about it in this week’s blog.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is not some crazy poisonous chemical. It is a mineral that occurs naturally in the ground all over the world.  The levels of it vary widely so that some areas have “too much” and other areas have none.  The determination of “too much” comes from the amount of fluoride that enters the drinking water.  In very specific amounts, fluoride is a good thing.  When there are high levels, it can cause damage to teeth and bones.

In the U.S., most cities regulate the amount of fluoride in the water supply to contain the exact levels necessary for healthy tooth formation with no risk for unhealthy levels.

What Does Fluoride Do for the Teeth?

In short, fluoride makes teeth stronger.  It helps them resist dental problems like cavities and acid erosion.  Fluoride doesn’t just affect enamel, either.  It strengthens the core structure of the teeth, dentin.  Dentin is more porous and softer than enamel, so it is much more susceptible to cavities.  Fluoride can shrink the pores and make dentin stronger, too.

Fluoride helps fight sensitive teeth.  Many people suffer from sensitivity due to gum recession and exposed tooth roots.  Roots do not have a protective coating of enamel, so the recession exposes the softer underlying dentin on the roots.  Exposed dentin is almost always sensitive.  Fluoride fights this sensitivity by shrinking or blocking the large pores in dentin that allow cold sensations to reach the nerve inside the tooth.

How Does Fluoride Strengthen the Teeth?

Fluoride works to strengthen in two different ways.  The first is through systemic absorption of fluoride, meaning you obtain the fluoride through your food and water.  This systemic absorption allows your teeth to incorporate fluoride into the mineral matrix of hard tooth structure during formation.  This mechanism of action is particularly important during childhood, since that is when teeth are developing.

Teeth that develop with fluoride in them are stronger and more resistant to cavities!

The second way fluoride strengthens the teeth is through topical absorption, meaning you apply the fluoride directly onto the tooth surface through toothpastes, mouthwashes, gels, etc…  This topical absorption allows fluoride to penetrate into the mineral matrix of the teeth and strengthen it from the outside.  Topical fluoride creates a stronger outer layer on the teeth, helping them fight acid and decay.

How is Fluoride Applied?

In its topical forms, we can apply fluoride to the teeth in many different ways.  Most people unknowing apply fluoride to their teeth every day by using a toothpaste that contains fluoride.  We also have access to over-the-counter mouthwash containing fluoride.  You may also be unconsciously applying fluoride to the teeth by drinking your tap water.  All of these materials contain a level of fluoride closely regulated for safety.

For some people, the level of fluoride available through over-the-counter products and drinking water is not enough to maintain the best dental health.  That is where professional fluoride treatments come in.

Prescription Fluoride Products for Use at Home

For patients with persistent sensitivity or consistently high risk for cavities, Dr. Ann may prescribe a fluoride product for you to use at home.  These prescription products typically come in the form of gels or toothpastes that you apply to the teeth before bed.  They contain a higher concentration of fluoride that is not safe for children, so be sure to follow the instructions on the package and store out of the reach of your little ones.

Sometimes Dr. Ann will instruct you to place the prescription gel or paste into carrier trays and wear overnight (this could include whitening trays, Invisalign aligners, etc…).  The goal is provide optimal cavity-fighting and sensitivity-stopping power!

Professional Fluoride Applications in the Dental Office

Dr. Ann and both of our hygienists Phyllis and Nancy can also apply fluoride directly to your teeth during your dental visits.  A professional fluoride treatment in the office delivers a concentrated high strength dosage of fluoride to your teeth.  Because we apply it for you, this option is great for patients who cannot or will not use the at-home products consistently.  We place professional fluoride treatments on most children and special needs patients.  We also recommend it for geriatric patients who struggle to accomplish great plaque control at home with brushing and flossing.

Who Needs Fluoride Treatments?

Fluoride’s two greatest advantages are its abilities to fight cavities and sensitivity.  For that reason, we typically recommend additional fluoride treatments (by “additional”, we mean in addition to the topical products you already use at home) to patients who have a high risk for cavities and to those who complain about consistent teeth sensitivity.

Anyone who has developed new cavities within the last year is considered high risk.  People with dry mouth or multiple dental restorations (like fillings and crowns) are also at an increased risk for cavities.  Professional fluoride treatments can help you lower that risk.  These preventive treatments can help you save both time and money at the dental office!

I’ve Heard Fluoride is Dangerous. Is that True?

There are many proponents of the theory that fluoride is “poison”, and you can find information easily with a quick internet search.  The truth is that fluoride can be toxic when its levels surpass safe amounts in the drinking water.  When there is too much fluoride in the ground that seeps into the drinking water, the people who drink it may be at risk for problems with their teeth and bones.  Some studies also show neurotoxicity (nerve and brain problems) with extremely high levels of fluoride.

Scientists have confirmed the safety of low levels of fluoride in drinking water and oral care products with countless, repeatable studies.  As long as you are drinking water from a regulated source and using products sold under the American Dental Associations Seal of Acceptance, you can trust that they are safe.  Fluoride is so good for the teeth that pediatricians will often prescribe supplements for children in areas where fluoride is not in the local water supply.

More Questions about Fluoride Treatments?

Call Designer Smiles today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ann, Phyllis or Nancy (our two wonderful dental hygienists).  We can answer any questions you have about fluoride treatments and assess your specific situation to determine whether you could benefit from one yourself.