The Ultimate Guide to Fluoride and Its Role in Preventing Tooth Decay

In discussing any effective oral health regimen, the mineral fluoride has to be on the list of necessary items. Brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing once a day form the foundation of your routine and the addition of fluoride as you brush adds another layer of protection.

The outer shell of your teeth consists of enamel that includes fluoride, all working to protect the tooth’s pulp and dentin. The addition of fluoride as you brush replenishes this mineral and helps protect you from tooth decay.

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about fluoride, including what it is, why it’s so important to your teeth, how to add more of it to your routine, and how much is needed.

So, What Is Fluoride Exactly?

Fluoride (or fluorine) is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet. But exactly what does that mean? And how does fluoride benefit your teeth?  

Minerals like calcium, sodium, and potassium are naturally found in soil and water and are absorbed by plants or consumed by animals and humans. Another one of these important, naturally occurring minerals is fluoride. Fluoride is naturally found in a variety of things, including spinach, grapes, raisins, potatoes, wines, and black tea, among others.

Once eaten or ingested in water, fluoride is absorbed by the body and stored in the bones and teeth. By adding foods containing fluoride to your diet, you are replacing the fluoride lost through normal depletion. In addition, according to the CDC, about 73% of people in the US drink water that has fluoride added to the public water supply.

Another layer of this mineral can be added by using fluoride toothpaste and/or mouthwash to your oral hygiene routine. Although there is no established Recommended Dietary Allowance for fluoride, there are amounts believed to provide adequate nutrition intake (AI), for ages 19 or older. (See more on this below.) 

Finally, you will probably also be asked if you want a fluoride treatment after having your teeth cleaned at your dentist’s office. It’s simply another protection for the enamel on your teeth. Discuss this with your hygienist and dentist if you have questions.

Specific Benefits of Fluoride

The enamel shell on each tooth is a porous layer that protects the inside of the tooth. However, plaque that builds up on the teeth seeps through the enamel, causing weak spots in the tooth. These spots can turn into cavities. By adding fluoride the enamel is strengthened and the teeth protected. 

Here is a further breakdown on some of the benefits of fluoride:

It Provides Antibacterial Protection

Fluoride not only adds a beneficial mineral to your teeth, it also provides a barrier to the buildup of bacteria and plaque. 

It Prevents Further Tooth Decay

Regularly utilizing the power of fluoride can prevent decay from happening at all. In many cases, it can even reverse decay in its early stages.

It Reduces the Number of Dentist Visits 

You can cut down on the number of added dental visits by using fluoride in your daily oral hygiene routine. Your teeth and gums will be healthier, eliminating extra dentist appointments to treat tooth decay.

It Reduces the Extensiveness of Treatments

By using fluoride or adding it to your diet, you are protecting your teeth from more invasive dental treatments, like deep cleanings. You will also have fewer cavities that need to be filled. All of this also reduces the time and money spent with your dentist.

Now that you know how important fluoride is to your teeth, let’s dive into the way to get enough of this mineral so it can do its job most effectively.

Adding Fluoride to Your Home Dental Routine

By learning about its importance, you have taken the first step to making sure you utilize fluoride to effectively protect your teeth. Now let’s find out how to ensure your teeth get enough fluoride. 

There are two primary ways to add fluoride to your oral health regimen: Topical applications and systemic applications. Let’s breakdown the difference:

Topical Applications 

Adding any product topically means applying it directly to where it’s needed. In this case, a topical application of fluoride can mean that you use toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride so it is deposited directly on your teeth when you brush or rinse.

It can also be applied topically during your routine dental exams and cleanings. In this case, the fluoride treatment is a paste that is applied directly to your teeth by the hygienist after your teeth have been cleaned.

The American Dental Association recommends that topical fluoride treatments happen every three, six, or 12 months. Your dentist will discuss the proper intervals for you based on your risk for cavities. It will help if you have added fluoride to your daily oral hygiene routine.

It is important to note that insurance sometimes doesn’t cover fluoride treatments because they are classified as preventative treatments, so call your dental insurance carrier to find out what your coverage is.

Systemic Applications

This means you ingest fluoride by eating foods that contain the mineral or drinking water to which it has been added.

Most Americans drink water that has added fluoride through the public water systems. Here are some common drinks/foods you can add to your diet that also contain fluoride:

  • Brewed black tea and coffee
  • Fluoridated bottled water
  • Canned shellfish like shrimp and blue crab
  • Oatmeal
  • Raisins
  • Potatoes

Parents with babies should be aware that most baby formula has fluoride added. Also, when cooking, keep in mind that using Teflon-coated pans also provides fluoride. 

How Much Fluoride Is Best?

As mentioned above, there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance established for fluoride. But, here are the specific recommendations for daily intake by age as recommended by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Birth to three years of age: 0.1 to 1.5 milligrams (mg)
  • Four to six years of age: 1 to 2.5 mg
  • Seven to 10 years of age: 1.5 to 2.5 mg
  • Adolescents and adults: 1.5 to 4 mg

It is also important to know that it’s possible to ingest too much fluoride. Getting too much fluoride over a long period can lead to a condition called skeletal fluorosis. Caused by excessive accumulation of fluoride, this disease leads to weakened bones.

Ingesting very large amounts of fluoride from dental products or dietary supplements can result in serious reactions. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bone pain, and even death in rare cases can result. 

For this reason, it is critical that you know that the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for fluoride for all adults 19+ years of age and pregnant and lactating women is 10 mg daily.

Also, children’s use of products containing fluoride must be monitored, as they sometimes swallow too much toothpaste. They should brush twice a day (no more) with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, and parents must teach them to spit out fluoride toothpaste and mouthwashes rather than swallow.

The most important lesson about fluoride for all ages is that more is not better.

Utilize the Power of Fluoride for Strong, Healthy Teeth

Fluoride is a common mineral that protects teeth in several important ways. It keeps the enamel on the teeth strong and can even reverse the damage already done by bacteria and sugar.

Fluoride can be applied either topically or systemically through products that are applied directly to the teeth, foods that contain fluoride naturally, and through public water supplies. In adding fluoride to your daily oral health routine, you can save money, discomfort, and time by protecting your teeth from decay. 

Here at Strafford Dental Associates, we utilize the power of fluoride to help keep your teeth as clean and healthy as possible. You can count on our expert team for all of your dental health needs. From routine cleanings and fluoride treatment to in-depth cosmetic dentistry procedures, we’ve got your family covered. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!