Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found throughout nature in water, soil, air and most foods. In dentistry, fluoride is used to reduce tooth decay, to re-mineralize weakened enamel and to reduce tooth sensitivity. Fluoride is useful in two forms; systemic and topical.
Systemic fluoride is ingested when added to public and private water supplies, soft drinks and teas, and is available in dietary supplement form. Once systemic fluoride is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract, the blood distributes it throughout the entire body. Most fluoride that is not excreted is deposited in hard tissues, teeth and bones. The incorporation of fluoride within the developing tooth makes the enamel much more decay resistant. Water fluoridation is endorsed by nearly every major health and safety related organization. Fluoridation of community water supplies is, without question, the single most effective public health measure for the reduction of tooth decay and improved oral health.
Topical fluoride application is used after the teeth are developed and erupted, and aids in the fight against decay and to promote re-mineralization of weakened enamel. Topical fluoride is found in such products as toothpastes, mouth washes and rinses. Dentists recommend brushing the teeth with fluoridated toothpaste at least twice daily, and after every meal when possible, combined with a regime of daily flossing and regular dental examinations and cleanings. Professionally administered topical fluorides, in the form of gels or foam, are frequently applied at the end of a cleaning appointment for children through the mid-teens.
Fluoride is also very important for adults. As we age, gum recession is a common occurrence. The roots of teeth, which are not covered by the protective enamel found on the crown of the tooth, become exposed. These exposed roots are commonly more sensitive to thermal changes. Fluoride treatment can be used to decrease temperature sensitivity, and if a person has a higher rate of decay, fluoride can reduce the chance of new decay while further protecting the edges of existing dental work. Fluoride treatments can be performed in the office after a cleaning or Dr. Boyle may prescribe a special fluoride rinse for home use.
Current generations will keep their teeth for a life-time, whereas previous generations have lost their teeth much earlier in life. Fluoride is a major reason why teeth are healthier now than ever before. Continued use of fluoride throughout adulthood will enhance good dental health.
In general, the use of fluoride is safe, unless it is misused or over-concentrated. Ingesting excessive amounts of fluoride can cause a condition known as fluorosis. This is a condition where the teeth are very decay resistant but exhibit an overall dark brown/gray coloration or an uneven coloration marked by chalky white spots.
If you are concerned about the fluoride levels in your drinking water, consult with your family dentist or call the local public water department. If your water source is a private well, request a natural fluoride content analysis of a water sample by your local health department.
If you have any questions about fluoride, Dr. Mahlin will be happy to discuss them with you.