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  • Writer's pictureSnyder Family Dental

Fluoride and how it helps our teeth

Fluoride’s Origin Story

Fluoride hails from the planet Earth. It’s found naturally in rocks, soil and water, but fluoride doesn’t exist on its own. Like so many superheroes, it’s created through a scientific process.  

Fluoride is actually a chemical ion of fluorine, one of the top 20 most common elements in the earth’s crust. An ion is a positively- or negatively-charged atom that helps elements combine with one another. When fluorine, which is negatively charged, meets a positively-charged ion like sodium, cavity fighters are born.

When these fluoride compounds are in your mouth, they can actually make your teeth stronger and prevent cavities. They can even reverse early tooth decay.

Fluoride to the Rescue

So how does fluoride fight cavities? To begin, let’s look at what fluoride is working so hard to protect – your teeth.

Tooth enamel is the outer covering of your teeth. It’s stronger than bone and made from calcium and phosphate. Your spit, or saliva, is also loaded with calcium and phosphate and bathes the teeth to keep them strong.

When you eat things like candy, crackers or noodles, cavity-causing bacteria starts feasting on the carbohydrates in these foods. This produces acids that attack your enamel. It causes calcium and phosphate to be stripped from the tooth enamel, leaving you more vulnerable to decay and cavities.

However, saliva disrupts the attack as it coats your teeth and adds back calcium and phosphate to  replace what had been stripped away.

Now, here’s where fluoride is the superhero. When your saliva has fluoride in it from sources like toothpaste or water, your teeth are able to take it in. Once in your enamel, fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate there to create the most powerful defense system your teeth can have to prevent cavities from forming: fluoroapatite. It’s much stronger, more resistant to decay and fights to protect your teeth.

Since Spokane doesn't have Fluoride in the water, we recommend a daily flouride rinse.

Dental professionals recommend brushing with fluoride toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay. This is especially important for children during their "cavity-prone" years. As an adult, however, there are times when you are at higher risk for tooth decay, and a fluoride rinse may be an appropriate addition to your oral hygiene routine.

What Is Fluoride Mouth Rinse?

Fluoride not only fortifies tooth enamel against acid attacks; it also repairs the early stages of tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site. Available over the counter (OTC) and as a prescription, the most common rinse for daily use is made up of sodium fluoride. Although these formulas are effective and easy to use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that fluoride rinses are intended for people with a high risk of decay. Children under six years old also shouldn't use a fluoride rinse due to the chance of ingestion.

Dry Mouth and Tooth Decay

Saliva is your natural tooth-cleaner in between brushing sessions. It washes food particles off of your teeth and neutralizes decay-causing acids produced by bacteria. So, when you're dehydrated or your mouth becomes parched, you're at a higher risk for tooth decay.

Dry mouth is often caused by medication, and according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), over 400 different kinds of medications can dry your mouth. AIDS, diabetes and Sjögren's syndrome are a few diseases that can also create a lack of saliva. Dry mouth is a common condition for anyone who has experienced a stroke, Alzheimer's disease or chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The AGD estimates that 30 percent of people over the age of 65 deal with dry mouth; using a fluoride rinse can keep your teeth clean during the day, thereby preventing decay and keeping your mouth moist despite any medicine you may have to take regularly.

Gum Disease and Root Decay

Gum disease often serves up double the challenge. When dry mouth makes it hard to thoroughly remove bacteria from your teeth, your gums can accrue plaque, become irritated and bleed easily. But they also begin to recede, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, exposing some of the tooth's root surface. Because this root surface is not as strong as enamel, you are more susceptible to root decay. Gum disease treatment often entails reshaping the gum tissue, which may or may not leave root surfaces partially exposed. So depending on the severity of your recession and whether or not you already have dry mouth, your dentist may recommend multiple forms of fluoride protection – including a fluoride rinse in either an OTC variety or prescription.

Orthodontic Braces

Metal braces create a homecare challenge in itself. For orthodontic patients, there are so many places for food and bacteria to hide, and your cavity risk can take a leap. A combination of plaque and sugars can lead to areas of decalcification, which yield visible white spots after your braces are removed. And these spots can eventually turn into full-fledged decay. This is why orthodontists often prescribe a fluoride rinse to limit decalcification.

Fillings, Crowns and Bridges

If you're starting to generate a few cavities after a long hiatus, your dentist may suggest extra protection, and that includes the use of a fluoride rinse even after receiving your filling. Similarly, anyone with extensive dental work needs to know that crowns and bridges offer the perfect hiding spots for bacteria to begin the decay process. With the regular use of fluoride, the process can be stopped before decay even shows, and the tooth can repair itself. Rinses allow you to do this more frequently beyond twice-a-day brushing.

Fluoride mouth rinse can benefit anyone who is especially prone to tooth decay. But remember, it is just one trick in your oral hygiene toolkit.

On the home front, be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that has the ADA Seal. This means that it has been tested and shown to contain the right amount of fluoride to protect your teeth.  And be sure to drink water with fluoride. Be aware that not all bottled waters, for example, contain fluoride.

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