If you have not already read the section on "Dental Disease" I would recommend that you do so. In this way you can fully understand why the use of Fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay.
In review, the tooth is primarily made up of a mineralized material called Hydroxyapatite, which in turn is made up of mostly Calcium and Phosphate. When the mouth becomes too acidic, these minerals begin leaking out of the tooth, a process called demineralization. This condition causes the tooth to become weaker and more prone to advanced tooth decay. When the mouth returns to a neutral pH, the Calcium and Phosphate which has been lost, returns back in to the tooth in a process called remineralization.
In the presence of Fluoride, the calcium and phosphate have a better chance of remineralizing the tooth. Furthermore, the Fluoride becomes part of the mineralized crystals of the tooth, in the form of Fluorapatite, which is much harder to break down.
To put it simply - Fluoride, when applied to the tooth hastens remineralization and makes demineralization more difficult. Fluoride works in two ways:
When applied directly to the tooth surface, topical Fluoride strengthens the teeth once they have erupted by seeping into the outer surface of the tooth enamel, making the teeth more resistant to decay. You cannot get enough topical Fluoride and it is impossible to have too much of it.
We receive topical Fluoride at home by using Fluoride-containing dental products such as toothpastes, mouth rinses, and gels.
Dentists and dental hygienists generally recommend that children have a professional application of fluoride twice a year during dental check-ups. In our office we achieve this with the latest method - the Fluoride Varnish. First the teeth are polished clean with a Fluoride containing toothpaste, then painted with a sticky Fluoride liquid. This method lasts for a very long time on the tooth surface giving the child a "time-released" benefit.
Once our teeth reach a certain age, the benefits of this professional treatment are minimal. Adults rarely receive this procedure, unless they are at a high risk of decay. Examples of this high risk population would be those suffering from dry mouth, undergoing chemo or radiation therapy for cancer, or anyone who is exhibiting unexplained, advanced decay.
While the teeth are still forming, the introduction of Fluoride inside the developing tooth will create a stronger mineralized surface. There is only a small window of opportunity to do this, beginning with the developing fetus and ending at around age 14.
Because Fluoride is a naturally occurring ion in many foods that we eat and in some community water supplies, this process occurs on its own. If you live in an area where Fluoride is not highly concentrated in your water, it is also available as a supplement in drops, vitamins, or gel form and can be prescribed by your dentist or physician.
Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for infants, and tablets are best suited for children up through the teen years. It is very important to monitor the amounts of fluoride a child ingests. If too much fluoride is consumed while the teeth are developing, a condition called fluorosis (white spots on the teeth) may result.
Remember, fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay! Controlling the acidity of your mouth, the frequency of acidic foods in your diet, and controlling the accumulation of food and the growth of bacterial plaque on your teeth are still very important. Fluoride just gives you a "let up" on the disease by steering you toward remineralization and away from demineralization of your teeth.
The following codes can be used when applying Fluoride in the office:
D1206: Topical Application of Fluoride Varnish
D1208: Topical Application of Fluoride Gel