The outer structure of a tooth, the enamel, is strong and able to withstand biting into foods and chewing them. But, this structure is not impervious to harm. Damage can occur due to trauma to the tooth, but often occurs due to dental disease. The minerals in our enamel – calcium and phosphorus – that help keep the enamel strong can be leached out by ‘acid attacks’ from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The fluoride in our drinking water and in ADA approved toothpastes serves to both neutralize those acids while helping to replace these two important minerals. Research has show that fluoride not only helps to prevent tooth decay by protecting the enamel it also helps to strengthen weakened enamel.
The benefits to fluoride begin even before birth, while teeth are forming, and continue throughout a lifetime. In fact, later in life there is the potential for gum recession, exposing the tooth’s roots to risk, and a reduction of saliva, which helps wash away food particles. It’s just as important to use fluoride when older as in youth.
Fluoride plays an integral role in the prevention of cavities. Fluoride can be applied in numerous ways directly onto the teeth. Some examples of topical applications in the dental office would be Fluoride Varnish, Foam, or Gel-Trays. These are at higher concentrations and can not be purchased over the counter. Fluoridated toothpastes (I.e. Crest, Colgate) and some mouth rinses (ACT) also give a topical benefit of fluoride to our teeth. Community water fluoridation is a common practice used to ensure all residents are getting enough fluoride to lower their risk for cavities. Sometimes fluoride is naturally occurring or a community has to add fluoride to their drinking water to reach optimum levels.