Preventing Tooth Decay: The Science of Fluoride

Preventing Tooth Decay: The Science of Fluoride
Posted on 04/04/2017
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If you are a parent, it's important for you to take the benefits of fluoride seriously. Children's teeth are much more susceptible to dental cavities than adults’ teeth are. Primary teeth more readily dissolve in acidic environments.

However, you should take care not to overdo it. Too much toothpaste is toxic for children, especially when they are not proficient at spitting out after brushing. Never use mouthwash for young children unless expressly directed to do so by a dentist. Daily brushing with children's toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water will be sufficient in most cases.

Have you ever wondered why fluoride is so important for your oral health? Learn more about the science behind fluoride and how it affects your teeth.

The Science

To really understand how fluoride benefits your teeth, you need to know what causes tooth decay in the first place. Every day, your teeth are exposed to bacteria. These bacteria are in general harmful to your teeth. They form the "fuzzy" film of plaque on your teeth when you go too long without brushing them.

Every time you eat sugar or simple starches like bread or crackers, the bacteria feed on the sugary residue left behind after you swallow. With ample food, the bacteria increase and produce acids that start to dissolve your enamel. Once the decay has broken though your enamel, the softer interior of your tooth (dentin) is at risk for a more accelerated rate of decay.

This is where fluoride comes in.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It's found in soil, food, and some water sources. It works to prevent and reduce cavities in several small (but impactful) ways.

Increases Strength

Fluoride strengthens existing enamel, making it less susceptible to the effects of bacterial acid. This is done through a complex chemical process that transforms some the hydroxyapatite in your enamel to fluorapatite, another common mineral that makes up your enamel. Fluorapatite is less soluble in acid, so higher levels can delay the onset of decay.

Children who drink fluoridated water are most able to benefit from the added strength fluoride can bring to the teeth, as it affects the enamel of growing teeth (the permanent teeth that are waiting to erupt). Proper brushing and safe fluoride levels for children can be a help in preventing dental decay later in life.

Inhibits Bacteria

Fluoride reduces the ability of plaque-forming bacteria to produce acid from sugar consumption. When the mouth becomes acidic with increased bacteria activity, fluoride can ionize to form fluorine ions. When this occurs, the ions bond with nearby hydrogen ions (common in acids) and form a compound. This compound can pass through bacterial cell walls.

After the compound is absorbed into the bacterial cell, it ionizes again. The fluorine ions then inhibit the enzyme activity of the bacteria, reducing its overall ability to consume sugars and produce acids.

Helps Remineralization

Fluoride assists in the remineralization of minor enamel decay. After the hydroxyapatite has been dissolved from the enamel surface, your body strives to restore the area with a combination of calcium and phosphate ions. Under normal circumstances, your saliva has these ions in spades.

But as mouth acidity increases, your teeth become less able to use calcium and phosphate in the saliva, so remineralization slows or stops. Fluoride helps make remineralization happen because it is attracted to the partially dissolved minerals in your enamel.

Fluoride essentially forms a film over your teeth, especially in areas where the enamel is more exposed from recent decay. Ionized fluoride attracts the calcium and phosphate ions to the teeth. As a bonus, the remineralized surface will be even more resistant to acid than before.

The Routine

Now that you've learned the basic scientific facts behind fluoride, now you need to know how to best apply the knowledge. You can get the most benefit from fluoride use by:

  • Drinking fluoridated water. All water contains some fluoride, but many communities will boost fluoride in water because of the dental benefits. Check with your water provider to see whether your community adds beneficial fluoride to the water supply. If not, you might want to ask your doctor for a supplement.
  • Brushing twice a day. Brushing your teeth doesn't just remove plaque from your teeth and get rid of residual sugars from food intake. It also provides your teeth with a low-concentration dose of fluoride to neutralize any decay that might have occurred that day. Fluoride is best used daily in small doses for the greatest results.
  • Using mouth wash when necessary. If you want a little extra kick, swish with mouthwash to give your teeth additional protection. Your dentist can recommend the best brand for your needs.

For more information about fluoride and remineralization treatments, contact us at Dentistry for Children & Adolescents.

DentistryforChildren&Adolescents

Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave. S., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Minnetonka Office - 6060 Clearwater Dr., Suite 210, Minnetonka, MN 55343 Phone: 952-932-0920

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