What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in many foods and in almost all drinking water.  Worldwide, over 300 million people drink fluoridated water supplies. The amount of fluoride in water varies from area to area.

Most toothpastes now contain fluoride, and most people get their fluoride this way. Fluoride toothpaste is very effective in preventing tooth decay. The amount of fluoride in toothpaste is usually enough to reduce decay.

In areas where the water supply has fluoride added, fluoride toothpaste gives extra protection.

Why is fluoride needed?

Every day, minerals are added to and lost from a tooth's enamel layer through two processes: demineralization and remineralization. Minerals are lost from a tooth's enamel layer when acids formed from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth attack the enamel. Minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate from foods and water can be redeposited to the enamel layer. Too much demineralization without enough remineralization to repair the enamel layer leads to tooth decay.

Fluoride can greatly help dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. It also reduces the amount of acid that the bacteria on your teeth produce. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth. It also reverses early decay.

New research indicates that topical fluoride -- from toothpastes, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatments -- are as important in fighting tooth decay and in strengthening developing teeth.

The addition of fluoride to water has been researched for over 60 years, and water fluoridation has been proven to reduce decay by 40 to 60 percent!

Who is a candidate for Fluoride?

People with certain conditions may be at increased risk of tooth decay and would therefore benefit from additional fluoride treatment. They include people with:

  • Dry mouth (Also called xerostomia): The lack of saliva makes it harder for food particles to be washed away and acids to be neutralized. Dry mouth is caused by diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, certain medications (such as allergy medications and high blood pressure drugs), and head and neck radiation treatment make someone more prone to tooth decay.
  • Gum disease (Periodontitis):  can expose more of your tooth and tooth roots to bacteria increasing the chance of tooth decay. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontitis.
  • History of frequent cavities (high cavity risk): If you have one cavity every year or every other year, you might benefit from additional fluoride.
  • Presence of crowns and/or bridges or braces (existing dentistry): These treatments can put teeth at risk for decay at the point where the crown meets the underlying tooth structure or around the brackets of orthodontic appliances.

Ask your dentist if you could benefit from additional fluoride.

What happens during a “fluoride” procedure?

After your hygiene visit, your teeth are the cleanest they will ever be. This is the best time for fluoride to have its maximum effect. These treatments contain a much higher level of fluoride than the amount found in water, toothpastes and mouth rinses.

Your dental team will then apply fluoride to the teeth as a gel, foam, or varnish. Varnishes are painted on the teeth, which is applied to the teeth for one to four minutes. Fluoride varnishes will help reduce tooth decay.

Some people are more likely to have tooth decay, and the dental team may also advise using a higher-strength fluoride toothpaste for extra protection.

I Drink Bottled Water, Am I Missing Out on the Benefits of Fluoride?

Even though there are no scientific studies to suggest that people who drink bottled water are at increased risk of tooth decay, the American Dental Association (ADA) says that such people could be missing out on the decay-preventing effects of optimally fluoridated water available from their community water source. The ADA adds that most bottled waters do not contain optimal levels of fluoride, which is 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (this is the amount that is in public water supplies, in the communities that have fluoridated water). To find out if your brand of bottled water contains any fluoride, check the label on the bottle or contact the bottle water manufacturer.

What can you expect during Fluoride Treatments?

Possibly. However, only a few places have enough natural fluoride to benefit dental health. In other places it is added to water. The amount of fluoride added to the water will vary depending on which area you live in. Having 0.7 to 1.2 parts of fluoride for every million parts of water (0.7ppm to 1.2ppm) has been shown to have the best effect. Your water supplier will be able to tell you whether your water supply has fluoride added.

Does a Home Water Treatment System Affect the Level of Fluoride in My Drinking Water?

The amount of fluoride you receive in your drinking water depends on the type of home water treatment system used. Steam distillation systems remove 100% of fluoride content. Reverse osmosis systems remove between 65% and 95% of the fluoride. On the other hand, water softeners and charcoal/carbon filters generally do not remove fluoride. One exception: some activated carbon filters contain activated alumina that may remove over 80% of the fluoride.

If you use a home water treatment system, have your water tested at least annually to establish the fluoride level your family is receiving in the treated water.

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