Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral most commonly found in water sources. This mineral is a great natural resource for our teeth because it can incorporate itself into teeth and make them stronger. Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to the bacteria that cause decay and also the acid environment created by things such as soda pop. It can even help to remineralize areas where acid attacks have already weakened the tooth.
Research still shows that childhood tooth decay is the most prevalent infectious disease in children. Yes, tooth decay is an infectious disease. The National Institutes of Health believes that dramatic reductions in tooth decay in the past years are a result of increased use of fluoride in water and through other means.
There are two major forms that fluoride comes in: topical and systemic.
These forms usually have a fairly high concentration of fluoride, and like all minerals, should not be ingested in large amounts. For that reason, it is important to not swallow these products and to monitor young children when they use them.
Ages three through adult (under three should use fluoride-free products). Use a pea sized amount, and brush and spit.
Brands such as ACT have fluoride added to the rinse and are another way to bathe the teeth in fluoride. Rinse and then spit it out.
Professional gels, foams or varnishes
These products are applied in the dental office. They contain an even higher concentration of fluoride and are not usually needed as often.
This type of fluoride is ingested in the body where it is then incorporated in teeth as they are forming. It also is useful because small amounts of fluoride will be present in the saliva as it bathes the teeth.
Fluoridated water is the most common method of receiving systemic fluoride. Most cities and towns add a small amount of fluoride to the water supply.
Supplements are for use when fluoride levels in water are inadequate. These are usually in the form of tablets, drops or lozenges and are provided by prescription from your dentist.
Notes on well water, filters and bottled water:
Well water may contain fluoride already, but it usually needs to be tested in order to figure out how much fluoride exists in the water naturally. If it is low, supplements can be used to increase your child’s fluoride levels. It is also important to note that most bottled water does not contain fluoride. There are some that do, so check the label. Many water filters also remove fluoride from water, so be sure to check the label and buy one that does not.