What Is Fluoride?

Like other minerals, fluoride aids in the remineralization teeth. It’s frequently found in soil and water sources or added by municipal water authorities to reduce the rates of tooth decay in their communities3. Today, over 75% of Americans have access to fluoridated water.

When applied topically through a professional fluoride treatment, fluoride toothpaste, or fluoride mouthwash, it helps remineralize weak tooth enamel and lowers the risk of new cavity development4.

Fluoride in Mouthwash, Toothpaste, and More

Using fluoride products such as anticavity toothpaste and mouthwash helps strengthen tooth enamel and lower the risk of tooth decay5. Dentists will even prescribe strong concentrations of fluoride to repair demineralized teeth, essentially reversing early-stage cavities before a hole is created in the tooth6. Oral health experts recommend using fluoridated toothpaste and similar products to keep your teeth healthy between dental checkups.

Fluoride treatments at the dentist’s office contain a concentrated amount of fluoride to provide immediate topical benefits for weak or demineralized teeth4. They are frequently recommended at six-month checkups for children, orthodontic patients, and adults with a history of recurring tooth decay or gum recession.

What Does Fluoride Do and Is It Good for Your Teeth?

The purpose of fluoride is to strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to demineralization. When used in oral health products, fluoride helps as it:

Reduces Tooth Decay

If used early and routinely, fluoride can remineralize weak tooth enamel and reverse early-stage tooth decay (demineralization.) These beginning stages of cavities typically look like spots on teeth6,7.

When fluoride is used as directed and included in your home hygiene routine, it is effective for strengthening cavity-prone areas throughout your smile. Whereas without fluoride, those demineralized spots would likely continue to erode into a physical cavity.

Protects Against Cavities

Routine use of fluoride helps to statistically lower the chances of developing tooth decay in adults and children. However, there is always the concern about too much of a good thing. As with any other vitamin or mineral, excessive intake can lead to unwanted side effects10. How much fluoride is too much?

Dental Fluorosis

Over-exposure to fluoride can occur when extremely high natural fluoride levels in your soil or water sources are ingested during early-stage tooth development and childhood. Fluorosis, which can cause enamel defects and tooth discoloration, is a common result10. Ingesting a large amount of fluoride at any given time can also cause gastrointestinal distress. It is no reason to avoid fluoride in toothpaste, as fluorosis is caused by prolonged internal absorption.

Dental fluorosis can also occur if parents give their children excessive fluoride supplements on top of fluoride in their water source and toothpaste10. As the permanent teeth erupt, there may be visible pitted enamel or dark brown spotting across the surface of their child’s teeth.

Fluoride dangers, such as overexposure or a fluoride allergy, are extremely rare. If you have concerns about fluoride dangers or fluoride toxicity, it is important to talk with your local family dentist as it relates to your oral health and specific community factors.

Skeletal Fluorosis

As with dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis is also a side-effect of excessive fluoride intake during childhood11. The hyper-calcified deposits in bone structures can cause skeletal irregularities that may not be visible without diagnostic X-rays. However, they cause the bones to be weaker than normal and cases are most common in developing countries due to contaminated groundwater12.

When to Use Fluoride

Dentists and dental hygienists recommend a professional fluoride treatment after preventative dental cleanings as well as fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, in addition to drinking fluoridated tap water and a professional fluoride treatment every six months13. Following up with a fluoride mouthwash after you brush and floss can help reduce your risk of cavities.

For more information about the benefits of fluoride and when to use fluoride, be sure to ask your dentist.