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For decades now, dentists have been recommending fluoride to their patients – but just how important are fluoride treatments? As it turns out, fluoride treatments are essential for healthy teeth and bright smiles.
Why are Fluoride Treatments Important?
Fluoride treatments are important because they prevent cavities, also known as dental caries. Dental cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease. In fact, cavities are five times more common than asthma. Cavities can cause pain, infection, damaged or broken teeth, trouble chewing, and tooth loss.
Dental cavities are holes in the enamel surface of a tooth. While enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it is no match for the bacteria and acid in the mouth.
Tooth enamel gets its strength from the minerals phosphate and calcium. In fact, tooth enamel is 96 percent mineral and is the hardest substance in the human body. Tooth enamel can hold up against the pressure of 250 pounds per square inch (psi) when you bite down. Despite all its strength, tooth enamel is vulnerable to damage from the bacteria and acid in the mouth, especially if it loses the minerals that make it strong.
Fluoride treatments make teeth less vulnerable to cavities
More than 6 billion bacteria live in your mouth. Some of the 700 species of bacteria promote good health, while others lead to disease. One strain of bacteria in particular, Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans), causes tooth decay. In fact, this strain is the main cause of cavities. S. mutans cause tooth decay through demineralization, which is a process that removes the calcium and phosphorus that make tooth enamel so strong.
- mutans thrives on sugar from food and beverages. As they feed, the bacteria produce acids that further the demineralization process. Lower levels of minerals leave the tooth enamel vulnerable to the formation of cavities.
In the early stages of tooth decay S. mutans cover your teeth, gums, and other surfaces inside your mouth. As it progresses, severe demineralization or the formation of cavities can allow bacteria to penetrate deeper into the tooth. Bacteria can invade the pulp at the center of the tooth and cause an infection. A pocket of pus, or abscess, may form at the bottom of the tooth. Tooth abscesses can trigger severe pain that radiates into your jaw.
Even in the absence of abscesses, demineralization and tooth decay can cause tooth loss, broken teeth, and other complications that reduce the quality of life. Untreated cavities can lead to pain that makes eating and speaking hard, for example, which may cause poor nutrition and weight loss. Decaying, missing, or broken teeth may affect your appearance in ways that make you lose confidence and self-esteem.
Fluoride treatments are important because they slow the demineralization that leads to tooth decay and abscesses. They also reduce the risk for complications of demineralization and tooth decay.
Fluoride is a natural and common mineral released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. In fact, all water contains some level of fluoride. Some communities add fluoride to their water supply to help protect their residents from cavities. Increasing the amount of fluoride available to enamel works: adding fluoride to community water sources has reduced tooth decay by about 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The body absorbs fluoride from water, and distributes it throughout the body through saliva and other body fluids. Saliva bathes your teeth in fluoride, and your teeth respond by absorbing the fluoride. Once inside tooth enamel, fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate to create fluoroapatite, which is much stronger and more resistant to decay.
One of the main problems with drinking water to gain fluoride is that your water source may not have enough of the mineral to protect your teeth. Many communities add fluoride to their water, but bottled water may not contain any added fluoride. Some people use fluoride rinses and toothpastes to supplement the fluoride they get from water, but the benefits fade if they stop using these products. What’s more, not all products are made for all patients.
For many people, fluoride treatments from their dentist are the most important approach to preventing cavities. Professional fluoride treatments provide enamel with the right amount of fluoride, in the right form, and at the right pace.
Fluoride treatments prevent cavities
Fluoride treatments prevent cavities by making more fluoride available to teeth in a form and concentration that makes it easy for teeth to make all the fluoroapatite they need to resist bacteria, acid, and tooth decay.
Frequent fluoride treatments from your dentist keep fluoride at optimal levels.
Choosing the Right Type of Fluoride Treatment is Important
Dentists apply these treatments in the form of a highly concentrated rinse, gel, foam, or varnish applied with a mouthwash, swab, brush, or tray.
Each application provides its own benefits. Varnish is sticky so it stays on the tooth longer than foam, for example, which gives the tooth more time to absorb the fluoride. Fluoride gel and foam are higher strength products, so patients can wait as long as a year between treatments, whereas fluoride varnishes must be reapplied at least twice a year for maximum effectiveness. Dentists listen closely to each of their patient’s dental history and expectations so that they can recommend the best fluoride treatments.
What to Expect During a Fluoride Treatment
For the important benefits they provide, fluoride treatments are faster and easier than you might think.
There are no special preparations for any dental fluoride treatment, and it takes only a few minutes to apply the fluoride to the teeth. A fluoride treatment requires no recovery time, although the dental professional applying the fluoride may suggest waiting at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking, though, to allow enough time for tooth enamel to fully absorb the fluoride.
For more information on the importance of fluoride treatments, consult with our dental team at Westerville Dental Associates. We are glad to help you decide which fluoride treatments are right for you.