The F Word: The Use of Fluoride in Dentistry

Your teeth are the hardest organs in the body, which make them well suited for their primary function, chewing. A tooth’s anatomy comprises of four main components namely, enamel, dentine, cementum and pulp cavity. These structures work together to maintain tooth vitality and sustain function.

What Makes Teeth So Hard?

The enamel is made up of water (4%) and minerals (96%), such as calcium phosphate and hydroxyapatite that are responsible for tooth hardness. The hardness of enamel is important as it offers protection to the sensitive components of your teeth from the ever changing conditions of the oral cavity. It is important that we make the effort to preserve the enamel as it does not regenerate. The use of fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay and reinforce enamel strength.

How does Fluoride Work?

Sweets and carbohydrates are a source food for bacteria found in the oral cavity. Bacteria breaks down these materials, releasing acid that attacks the enamel by dissolving its minerals causing demineralization and if left untreated, decay. Demineralization can also occur through the consumption of acidic foods. The presence of saliva helps to disrupt the process of demineralization by depositing calcium and phosphate ions (remineralization). Remineralization can be assisted by using fluoride found in toothpaste, mouth rinses and in some countries; table salt and water supplies are fluoridated.

Fluoride is natural mineral, which when exposed to the enamel, forms fluoroapatite. Without fluoride interaction, the enamel is made up of hydroxyapatite, but fluoroapatite is much stronger, more resistant to acid wear and decay. Studies have shown that children and adolescents exposed to fluoride are up to 43% less likely to develop cavities.

Fluoride Treatment at the Dentist

Fluoride treatment/therapy is an in-office procedure in which a dentist applies fluoride topically to the patient’s teeth using either a gel or varnish. Chair time is generally just a few minutes, but following the treatment, patients must avoid rinsing, eating or drinking for at least 30 minutes for the fluoride treatment to be fully effective.

Who Needs Fluoride Treatment?

Everyone can benefit from fluoride treatment, but generally speaking fluoride treatment is strongly recommended for persons with a high caries risk. If you fall into any of the following categories you may be a good candidate for fluoride treatment:

  • Patients with a familial trend of tooth decay
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Smokers and patients with a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Patients suffering from dry mouth
  • Patients undergoing head and neck radiotherapy
  • Patients diagnosed with enamel defects such as Molar Incisor Hypomineralization
  • Physical and mentally challenged patients
  • Patients with dental appliances such as braces, crowns, and bridges

How Often Do I Need to Do Fluoride Therapy?

How often fluoride treatment is needed depends on your oral health status. Some dental professionals may recommend every three, six or twelve months varying from person to person. The application of fluoride together with daily oral routines reinforces tooth structure and prevents tooth decay.

When was the last time you had fluoride applied professionally? To find out more about fluoride treatment consult with your local dentist and find out what option best suits you.

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