Fluoride is critical to your oral health because it strengthens your teeth, making it difficult for acids to cause damage, says the Centers for Disease Control. If you're at risk for tooth decay, your dentist might recommend fluoride treatments. (Those at risk include people with a history of cavities, dry mouth or poor diet.) Fluoride lends a helping hand to the natural remineralization process that happens in your mouth. But, what is remineralization, and how does benefit your enamel?
What Is Remineralization?
Enamel, the protective coating that covers the crown of your tooth, is a hard tissue made up of closely packed mineral crystals. When you eat something sticky or sugary, an acid response erupts in the bacteria that lives in the plaque on your teeth. These acid attacks dissolve the mineral crystals in a process called demineralization. Later, mineral-rich saliva washes over your teeth, redepositing calcium and phosphate to the enamel.
A battle wages between demineralization and remineralization all day. It's important that the two processes stay in balance with one another so that your teeth don't experience prolonged mineral loss, which can lead to decay.
How Does Fluoride Support Remineralization?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), fluoride helps teeth through remineralization. It toughens those minerals that are being redeposited to the enamel, making them more difficult to destruct in the next demineralization phase. Fluoride also helps to stop bacteria from making acids.
How Do I Get Fluoride?
Fluoride is available in systemic and topical forms. Systemic fluorides are swallowed, via enriched community water or dietary supplements. There is even a small amount of fluoride in the food we eat. Swallowed fluoride enters the bloodstream and becomes part of your saliva.
Topical fluorides come in the form of toothpastes or rinses that you already have in your medicine cabinet. You can also get topical exposure when fluoridated water washes over your teeth. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to make sure you're getting both topical and systemic exposure to fluoride. If these methods aren't enough and you're still having trouble, your dentist might recommend an in-office concentrated topical fluoride treatment.
What Should I Expect from Fluoride Treatments?
The kinds of fluoride treatments you get in your dentist office are quick. Usually they're in the form of a solution, gel, foam or varnish that are applied directly on your teeth. First your dentist will dry your teeth so that the fluoride isn't diluted by saliva. Gels and foams can be applied by using a tray for a few minutes. Varnish is painted directly on to the surface, especially the areas prone to cavities.
Acidulated phosphate fluoride is acidic; neutral sodium fluoride is not. Dentists often use neutral sodium fluoride for people with dry mouth or tooth-colored fillings, crowns or bridges because an acidic fluoride can be irritating. Usually you'll be asked not to eat or drink for a half hour or so afterwards so that your enamel has the opportunity to absorb the full benefits.
Maybe you only give your enamel thought when you're on the way to the dentist for fluoride treatments, but you can care for your enamel at home every day by simply drinking water and adding fluoride to your oral care routine.