Dental Fluoride: How Does it Help Prevent Cavities?

Dental fluoride is useful for preventing cavities. Additionally, it contributes to re-mineralizing tooth enamel. How does it work? When does it become harmful? In this article, we'll tell you all about it!
Dental Fluoride: How Does it Help Prevent Cavities?

Last update: 03 October, 2021

For a long time, dental fluoride has helped to prevent cavities. In addition to brushing your teeth and controlling your diet, using this element is one of the main ways you can protect your teeth from cavities.

However, do you know how to incorporate this mineral? How and when should you use it? Can using it be harmful in some cases?

Determining the answers to these questions is important. For this reason, we’ll tell you all about it in this article.

What is dental fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that’s present in the earth’s surface, in water sources, and certain foods. You can also find it in animal products, like salmon, sardines, and liver; or in vegetable products like tea, tomatoes, potatoes, and spinach.

In addition to incorporating it into your diet through natural sources, you can also add this mineral to several products like supplements. Because specialists have demonstrated that dental fluoride contributes to preventing cavities, some communities use it in the water network to reduce the impact of this issue. This way, the water comes with fluoride in it, as well as salts and milk.

Among other things, you can find it in dental care products, like toothpaste, mouthwashes, and dental floss. Similarly, it’s in materials that dentists use in their consulting rooms to prevent and treat the issues.

The human body has metabolic mechanisms that regulate and control the absorption, use, and excretion of this element. We retain the majority of fluoride in our bones and teeth; and a small part in the white tissues. We eliminate the excess amount through urine and even smaller amounts through sweat and feces.

close up of cavities in patient's teeth
Fluoride is a useful mineral when it comes to preventing and treating cavities. It’s in toothpaste, supplements, water sources, and food.

What are cavities?

Cavities affect both children and adults. Specifically, it’s an infectious issue that affects the minerals on the surfaces of the teeth. The microorganisms in the mouth metabolize the sugars in our diets and produce acids that are capable of attacking the inorganic component of the teeth.

The hard tissues demineralize. Through this, the teeth lose their structure. When this process begins, you may notice an opaque white stain that turns darker as the damage progresses.

If you don’t treat it and the demineralization continues, cavities or holes in the teeth begin to appear, which become increasingly bigger and deeper. Later, the surface of the teeth softens and the damage can affect the pulp area. This then gives way to painful symptoms or an infectious process.

How can dental fluoride help to prevent cavities?

Dental fluoride helps to prevent cavities through two main action mechanisms:

  • On one hand, the element chemically combines with the crystals in the enamel, which transforms the hydroxyapatite into fluorapatite. A substance that is more resistant to decalcification. This reaction is neither definitive nor stable, which is why it’s important to expose yourself frequently to this mineral.
  • On the other hand, the presence of this element in the mouth reduces the metabolism of bacterial plaque. This reduces the production of the acids responsible for the demineralization of the teeth, Also, it inhibits microorganisms adhering to themselves, which makes it difficult for this harmful film to bind together and accumulate.

You can incorporate fluoride into the body can through two main ways. One is systemic, through which you would ingest the mineral through drinking fluoride water, eating food or supplements that contain it. The body then distributes this through the bloodstream and deposits it in the dental structures where it’s formed.

Flouride’s impact on the body through these means is important when teeth are forming in babies and small children. This is because it combines with enamel crystals and as a result, the tissue is a lot more resistant to cavities.

The other way is local. This means applying the mineral on the surfaces of our teeth once they have come through and are in our mouths. Flouride reaches the teeth this way through toothpaste, mouthwashes, or dental floss that contains it. Also, we can get it from varnishes or gels that the dentist will apply in their consulting room.

It’s important to mention that fluoride also has a therapeutic action in cases of illness, as it’s able to remineralize enamel when a person has lost several minerals.

Dangers of excessive dental fluoride use

Excessively using dental fluoride can be harmful. Its effect on the teeth greatly depends on its concentration. So, if it’s in lower quantities, its action is beneficial. Alternatively, if it’s excessive, it may cause some side effects like tooth damage.

Fluorosis is an issue that happens when we expose a tooth to fluoride excessively whilst it’s forming. In this issue, the teeth look stained with white or brown lines. The enamel is damaged and the tooth may have dimples or deformations in more serious cases.

Generally speaking, communities incorporate fluoride into their water sources to reduce the prevalence of cavities in the population, through safe concentrations. In these cases, incorporating fluoride systemically through supplements isn’t necessary.

The optimum concentration of this mineral in drinkable water is 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter (mg/L). These values, in addition to using fluoride toothpaste habitually, are enough to protect the mouth from the issues without any risk. In fact, toothpaste tends to contain levels of the mineral that are between 1000 to 1200 parts per million (ppm).

If the drinkable water doesn’t contain fluoride, your dentist may suggest you take fluoride supplements, especially during infancy when the teeth are forming. The dentist will establish the quantity and the way you use it, which will be according to your age (or the child’s age) and the current risk of cavities.

Additionally, if your dentist deems it necessary, they may also suggest that you use a toothpaste with a higher fluoride percentage or mouthwashes that contain this mineral.

Other advice to prevent cavities

Although dental fluoride helps to prevent cavities, it’s not the only thing that you should bear in mind when it comes to caring for your oral health. Below, we’ll list other practices that can help to prevent this issue from developing.

  • Toothbrushing: Cleaning all sides of all your teeth is essential to eliminate the bacterial plaque that causes this issue. you should clean them at least twice a day with a brush that has soft bristles and a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Dental floss: This is necessary to complement your dental hygiene. You’ll be able to reach those areas of the teeth that the toothbrush doesn’t. You should use it at least once a day. You can also clean these difficult areas with interdental toothbrushes and irrigators.
  • Balanced diet: Eating properly and limiting how much simple sugar, ultra-processed foods, and sodas you consume can help to prevent cavities.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum: This practice helps the teeth to clean themselves through the saliva that the mouth generates through chewing. Also, they usually contain sugar substitutes like xylitol, which helps to prevent cavities.
  • Visiting the dentist often: Periodic dental control can help to detect and treat any issue ahead of time. Professional cleans and topical fluoride applications in the consulting room are an extra effort that protects your teeth.
  • Pit and fissure sealants: The dentist will do this by placing a special material on the retentive surfaces of the teeth. This way, it’s easier to clean them and it avoids bacteria accumulating in difficult-to-clean areas.
  • Drink enough fluid: Patients that suffer from xerostomia or dry mouth should frequently hydrate and use saliva substitutes to combat this effect that helps cavities form.
  • Treat issues that reduce the mouth pH level: You must identify and treat illnesses like bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and acid reflux as specialists link all of these with cavities.
man in front of mirror smiling and brushing his teeth
You can also prevent cavities by practicing adequate dental hygiene and periodic visits to the dentist.

Follow your dentist’s advice

Dental fluoride helps to prevent cavities. You should take advantage of this when it comes to caring for your oral health! Regardless, although it’s not very common, excessively consuming this mineral can be harmful, especially when teeth are still forming.

For that reason, when it comes to using products to care for your mouth and to prevent cavities, it’s best to consult your dentist. This professional will be able to evaluate the particular conditions of your mouth, your habits, and the presence, or lack, of fluoride in the water. This will help them to recommend the best products. They’ll also explain how to use them and for how long.

With that in mind, visiting the dentist frequently is the best way to protect your mouth. Talk to a professional about any worries you may have about using fluoride and trust the advice they give you for a smile that looks and feels healthy!

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