When most of us hear the word fluoride, we think of that fun part of our dental visit where we get to swish around a special fluoride solution for sixty seconds before spitting it out, and then we are unable to eat directly afterwards. Despite that fact that most of us put this solution in our mouth twice a year, we are completely unaware of what it is, what fluoride is found in, and how it works.
The first thing you should know is that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It can be found most often in water sources, and it is present in all water that we drink, unless filtered out. The reason that fluoride is important to your dental health is because it has been shown repeatedly in studies to combat tooth decay and reduce cavities. Fluoride then is a powerful tooth for taking care of your teeth.
There are two ways fluoride works. With children who are still developing their teeth and growing, swallowing fluoride is effective. When children ingest it, it enters the bloodstream and adds to their saliva helping to develop and strengthen their teeth. After teeth stop developing though and children reach adulthood, the only effective way to protect teeth using fluoride is by applying it to the outside of the teeth.
The most obvious way we get a good dose of fluoride applied to the outside of our teeth is through the professional fluoride treatments performed by dentists. While not all fluoride is administered in the way mentioned above, it is common for treatment to be given in this format. However, it can also be administered by your dentist as a gel, foam, or varnish.
Additionally, some dentists may prescribe fluoride supplements for children if the dentist is concerned the child is not getting enough fluoride. This is commonly done for children between the ages of six to sixteen who live in an area with less than adequate fluoride amounts in their water supply. It can also be given when a child is at an increased risk of cavities or tooth decay. The medication can be given in liquid or tablet form. Again, ingesting fluoride in this manner would only be effective for children whose teeth are still developing.
While our dentist can provide children with fluoride supplements, children can get additional fluoride into their bloodstream in a number of ways. Fluoride can be found in some foods such as processed cereals and seafood and in some liquids like tap water, juice, soda, and teas. For infants, fluoride is often in infant formula.
Additionally, there are a number of ways that we can get fluoride that helps both children and adults. Most toothpaste and oral rinses have fluoride in them already, and it applies the fluoride to the outside of your teeth, helping adults who cannot get fluoride in other ways. Adults can also get some extra fluoride by drinking wine and beer or by smoking cigarettes. Second hand smoke, while not suggested, also includes fluoride.
While a simple and common mineral, fluoride is a great resource for preventing cavities and tooth decay. Plus, some studies show that for every dollar invested in fluoridation, you saw thirty-eight dollars in dental costs to fix problems that would have been present without the fluoride. Just make sure that like with everything, moderation is key, and you can have too much fluoride.