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Fluoride and dental health

Fluoride is a natural mineral that builds strong teeth and prevents cavities. It’s been an essential oral health treatment for decades. Fluoride supports healthy tooth enamel and fights the bacteria that harm teeth and gums. Tooth enamel is the outer protective layer of each tooth.

Fluoride is especially helpful if you’re at high risk of developing dental caries, or cavities. Cavities occur when bacteria build up on teeth and gums and form a sticky layer of plaque. Plaque produces an acid that erodes teeth and gum tissue. If the plaque breaks down the enamel layer, bacteria can infect and harm the nerves and blood at the core of the tooth.

What happens during a professional fluoride treatment?

Dentists provide professional fluoride treatments in the form of a highly concentrated rinse, foam, gel, or varnish. The treatment may be applied with a swab, brush, tray, or mouthwash.

These treatments have much more fluoride than what’s in your water or toothpaste. They only take a few minutes to apply. You may be asked to avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes after the treatment so the fluoride can fully absorb.

Always give your dentist your full health history so they can choose the right treatments for you.

What are the benefits of fluoride?

Fluoride works by restoring minerals to tooth surfaces where bacteria may have eroded the enamel. It can also inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria and further prevent cavities.

Fluoride benefits both children and adults. The earlier children are exposed to fluoride, the less likely they are to develop cavities. A large study found that children and adolescents who received fluoride treatments for one year were 43 percent less likely to have tooth decay and cavities.

Before fluoride was added to toothpaste, studies found that people with fluoridated water were 40 to 60 percent less likely to get cavities. The ADA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Trusted Source recommend trace amounts of fluoride be present in drinking water.

Are there side effects to fluoride?

Like any medication, too much fluoride can cause negative complications. You can get too much fluoride by accidentally overdosing or by being prescribed a dose that’s too high. Fluoride poisoning is very rare today, though chronic overexposure may harm developing bones and teeth in small children. Many children’s toothpastes don’t include fluoride.

Too much fluoride can cause:

  • white specks on mature teeth

  • staining and pitting on teeth

  • problems with bone homeostasis

  • very dense bones that aren’t very strong

Acute toxicity, such as an overdose on fluoride supplement pills, can cause:

  • nausea

  • diarrhea

  • tiredness

  • excessive sweating

It can even lead to death. Always keep fluoride supplements out of reach of children.

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