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Fluoride Treatment: Benefits & Recommendations

A natural mineral that helps strengthen teeth and prevent cavities, fluoride has been key to dental health treatment for several decades. Supporting healthy tooth enamel -- each tooth’s outer protective layer, fluoride actively fights against bacteria that can damage both the teeth and gums.

Fluoride is particularly beneficial for those considered at high risk of developing cavities, which occur when bacteria accumulate on teeth and gums, creating a sticky plaque layer. And that plaque produces an acid, effectively eroding teeth and gum tissue. Furthermore, if the tooth’s enamel layer breaks down due to plaque, the nerves and blood at the core of the tooth can become infected and damaged by bacteria.

In an attempt to reduce tooth decay, most of America’s tap water has contained small amounts of fluoride over the past 70 or so years. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fluoridated water has resulted in a 25 percent reduction in tooth decay nationally.

What Does a Professional Fluoride Treatment Entail?

Professional fluoride treatments generally consist of a highly-concentrated fluoride gel, foam, rinse, or varnish applied by a dentist or hygienist to an individual’s teeth. Applied using a brush, mouthwash, swab, or tray, fluoride treatments aim to enhance dental health while simultaneously minimizing the risk of developing cavities.

Moreover, these treatments contain much more sizeable fluoride amounts than typically found in your water or the average toothpaste, providing more immediate benefits. Although fluoride treatments take just a few minutes to apply, patients may need to avoid food or drink for 30 minutes following the treatment, allowing the fluoride to absorb entirely. And according to the American Dental Association (ADA), patients should receive professional fluoride treatments every 3, 6, or 12 months, based on their dental health. However, it is essential to provide your dentist with your complete health history to determine a treatment option best suited to you.

Benefits of Fluoride

Fluoride offers teeth various benefits, including:

  • Assisting the body to make better use of minerals, like calcium and phosphate, so the teeth may reabsorb them to repair weakened tooth enamel
  • Making teeth less vulnerable to bacteria and cavities by contributing to the strengthening of tooth enamel
  • Slowing or eliminating cavity development
  • When combined, these numerous benefits may help to minimize the risk of cavities, slow cavity growth, prolong the life of baby teeth, lessen the amount of time and money spent at the dentist, and delay the need for costly dental procedures. As a result, fluoride treatments can help prevent gum disease, reduce tooth pain, and eliminate the premature loss of teeth.

    Side Effects of Fluoride

    Against what some may believe, fluoride treatments and fluoridated water do not cause extensive harm. However, some individuals may experience some of the following side effects:

    • Tooth discoloration -- most typically white streaks that result from fluorosis in children ages 0 to 8
    • Allergies or irritation
    • Toxic effects -- only if applied improperly or in dangerously excessive doses, although highly unusual

    Fluoride Treatment Recommendations

    Both the CDC and ADA recommend frequent small amounts of fluoride exposure daily to reduce dental cavity risk. For most dental patients, “drinking tap water with optimal fluoride levels and brushing teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste” will suffice. Nevertheless, for children and adults considered at high risk for cavities, fluoride treatments can help prevent decay, pain, and subsequent dental infections.

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