Fluoride is a mineral that helps fight tooth decay. Direct contact between fluoride and teeth strengthens and helps demineralize damaged enamel. Fluoride is found in public water supplies, toothpaste and many other dental products. Fluoride helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay can be seen and helps prevent cavities in children and adults by making teeth more resistant to the acid attacks that cause cavities. When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, or use other fluoride dental products, you are preventing cavities and strengthening your teeth’s enamel.
For patients susceptible to high risk of getting cavities, the dentist may also suggest applying a fluoride varnish to the surfaces of the teeth. These treatments contain a much higher level of fluoride than the amount found in toothpastes and mouth rinses. Varnishes are painted on the teeth or put into a mouth guard, which is applied to the teeth for 1 to 4 minutes; gels can be painted on or applied via a mouth guard, but care is required in children to ensure the gel is not swallowed.
You might also need to use a special fluoride rinse, paste or gel at home. For children 3 to 6 years of age, parents should dispense no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and brush teeth thoroughly twice per day. Always supervise your child’s brushing to ensure that they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and try and get your child to spit out most of the toothpaste but do not rinse after tooth brushing.
In addition, people with certain conditions may be at increased risk of tooth decay and would therefore benefit from additional fluoride treatment. They include people with:
- Dry mouth conditions: caused by diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, certain medications (such as allergy medications, antihistamines, anti-anxiety drugs, and high blood pressure drugs), and head and neck radiation treatment makes an individual more prone to tooth decay. The lack of saliva makes it harder for food particles to be washed away and acids to be neutralised
- Gum disease: also called gingivitis, gum disease can expose more of your tooth and tooth roots to bacteria, increasing the chance of tooth decay
- History of frequent cavities: if you develop a cavity frequently, you might benefit from additional fluoride
- Presence of crowns and/or bridges or braces: these treatments can put teeth at risk of decay at the point where the crown meets the underlying tooth structure or around the brackets of orthodontic appliances