Fluoride: What exactly is it, and why is it so important?

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fluorideFluoride, which is sometimes called “Nature’s Cavity Fighter,” is a mineral that helps fight tooth decay. Found in toothpaste, public water supplies, and many other dental products, fluoride helps to remove and repair early stages of tooth decay before the decay can even be detected.

Studies have shown that using fluoride helps prevent cavities in adults and children by strengthening tooth enamel (the outer surface of your teeth) and protecting against the acid attacks that cause cavities.

Every day, two processes are happening in your mouth that are constantly fighting against each other: demineralization and remineralization. Demineralization occurs when minerals in your teeth are lost. This happens when acids – formed by plaque, sugars, and bacteria in your mouth – attack your tooth enamel. Remineralization does the exact opposite (thankfully!) by re-depositing these important minerals back into your tooth enamel. If too much demineralization occurs without enough remineralization, your teeth become subject to tooth decay.

Using fluoride helps to prevent this tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acid attacks and less susceptible to demineralization. Fluoride also speeds up the remineralization process as well, ensuring that those essential minerals are concentrated in your tooth enamel.

Toothpaste containing fluoride is most often recommended to use when brushing your teeth. Even children are recommended to use it! As a parent, help your child use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, and try to make sure they spit most of it out. Children younger than three need only a smear of fluoride toothpaste on their brush, and kids ages three to six need only a pea-sized dollop.

Your dentist or hygienist can apply fluoride to your teeth when you come in for your regular six month cleaning. They may also recommend a rinse, paste, or gel containing fluoride for you to use at home to help prevent cavities. These treatments and products contain a much higher concentration of fluoride than is found in fluoride toothpastes and mouth wash.