Fluoride is an ion found naturally in water, some types of food, and in soil. It is also manufactured in laboratories and added to drinking water or dental products like toothpaste. Fluoride is commonly associated with tooth protection.
Fluoride is thought to protect teeth from decay and cavities. When bacteria in the mouth mix with sugars, the acid that is produced can erode the tooth enamel and thus damage teeth. Fluoride protects the teeth from demineralization that is caused by the acid. If teeth are already damaged, fluoride gathers in the demineralized areas and strengthens the enamel by incorporating the fluoride ion into the damaged enamel and restoring its health and function. This process is called remineralization. Fluoride is quite useful in preventing cavities and strengthening teeth, but its effectiveness diminishes once the beginnings of a cavity are in place. Fluoride also decreases sensitivity of teeth which can help greatly those suffering from sensitivity related to fillings, enamel wear, grinding, or tooth whitening.
Fluoride may be taken in orally or applied topically. If food that has fluoride such as meat, fish, and eggs are consumed, fluoride enters the bloodstream and it is absorbed by the teeth and bones. Many places add fluoride to the drinking water in order to ensure that the recommended levels are obtained. Fluoride can also be applied to teeth at a dental office via fluoride foam or varnish painted on the teeth. The teeth will absorb topical fluoride treatments, but little of this fluoride enters the digestive system. Topical fluoride treatments may also be applied at home through toothpastes, mouthwashes or fluoride gels. Ingestible fluoride pills are also available.
Many health agencies recommend receiving some level of fluoride. Children need fluoride to protect their permanent teeth, especially when they are just beginning to form. Adults need fluoride for the continuous protection of teeth against tooth decay. Children and adults at high risk for tooth decay benefit especially from fluoride treatments. They are individuals with history of cavities, little access to dentists, those who practice poor dental hygiene and have diets with high amounts of sugar. Those who like to snack or have orthodontic appliances such as braces, or bridges, and teeth restorations also need an extra boost in fluoride.
When used properly, fluoride is a safe and effective tool to prevent tooth decay. However, high doses of fluoride for extended periods of time may cause harm, especially in children. Dental fluorosis, which refers to the discoloration of tooth enamel, may happen if a person has too much fluoride during formation of permanent teeth. Lifetime exposure to high amounts of fluoride may lead to bone weakening and joint stiffness.
Toxic effects of fluoride exposure may happen to someone who consumes a large dose of fluoride at once. For example, if a small child consumes an entire tube of toothpaste, the child could experience nausea, vomiting blood, stomach pain, and convulsions. The best treatment for fluoride overdose is to induce vomiting and to have the child drink large amount of milk, which binds fluoride ions and helps eliminate it from the system. Calling poison control or going to the emergency room might also be prudent if the amount consumed is unknown.
There are many scientific studies that have supported the benefits of fluoride treatment in preventing tooth decay. However, as with all medications and supplements, fluoride must be carefully monitored and dosed. Dr. Lindhorst and her staff follow a strict fluoride supplementation regiment as recommended by the ADA and AAPD to make sure that all our patients have healthy teeth and to significantly decrease risk for dental decay without causing fluorosis or other health problems. We are always open to any questions from all our patients and parents and will be happy answer them.