Category Archives: Fluoride
This post is the first in a series of seven posts regarding common dental problems.
Brushing and flossing daily will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and gums healthy. But sometimes trouble arises even when you do everything right (blame bad genes or bad luck). Here are the issues you should be on the lookout for and what to do to keep them at bay.
Also known as dental caries or cavities, tooth decay occurs when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms when you eat sugars or starches, is allowed to linger on teeth for too long.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone can get a cavity, but children and older people are the most prone. The incidence among children has been declining, thanks to community water fluoridation and the increased use of fluoride toothpastes, but “more than one half of all children have cavities by the second grade,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services report Healthy People 2010. Older adults are prone to cavities at the root because protective gum tissue often pulls away.
What to do
Don’t give plaque a chance- brush with a fluoride toothpaste and floss every day. Children can also benefit from sealants (plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of their back teeth) as soon as their adult molars come in. Older people should be particularly vigilant. Those who have a tendency toward dry mouth should receive regular fluoride treatments from a dentist and use a fluoride-containing mouth rinse.
Information on Tooth Decay
How Tooth Decay Happens
Tooth decay is caused by certain types of bacteria that live in your mouth. When they attach themselves to the teeth, they can do damage. The bacteria feed on what you eat, especially sugars (including fruit sugars) and cooked starch (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.). Within about five minutes after you eat or drink, the bacteria begin producing acids as byproduct of their digesting your food. Those acids can penetrate into the hard substance of the tooth and dissolve some of the minerals. If the acid attacks are infrequent and short of duration, your saliva can help to repair the damage by neutralizing the acids and supplying minerals and fluoride that can replace those lost from the tooth. However, if the bacteria balance is off or you snack frequently, then the tooth minerals lost will be too great and cannot be repaired. This is what is known as a cavity.
Methods of Controlling Tooth Decay
Reducing the number of sugary and starchy foods, snacks, drinks, or candies can help reduce the development of tooth decay. That does not mean you can never eat these types of foods, but you should limit their consumption, particularly when eaten between meals. A good rule is three meals per day and no more than three snacks per day.
Fluorides help make teeth more resistant to being dissolved by bacterial acids. Fluorides are available from a variety of sources such as drinking water, toothpaste, over-the-counter rinses, and prescribed products, such as brush-on gels used at home or foams applied in the dental office. Daily use is very important to help protect against the acid attacks.
Removing the plaque from your teeth on a daily basis is helpful in controlling tooth decay. Plaque can be difficult to remove from some parts of your mouth, especially between the teeth and in the groves on the biting surfaces of the back teeth. If you have an appliance such as an orthodontic retainer or partial denture, remove it before brushing your teeth. Brush all surfaces of the appliance as well.
Saliva is critical for controlling tooth decay. It neutralizes acids and provides minerals and proteins that protect the teeth. If you cannot brush after a meal or snack, you can chew some sugar-free gum. This will stimulate the flow of saliva to help neutralize acids and bring lost minerals back to the teeth. Sugar-free candy or mints could also be used, but some of these contain acids themselves. These acids will not cause tooth decay, but they can slowly dissolve the enamel surface over time.
Some sugar-free gums are designed to help fight tooth decay and are particularly useful if you have a dry mouth (many medications can cause a dry mouth). Some gums contain baking soda, which neutralizes the acids produced by the bacteria in plaque. Gum that lists xylitol as its first ingredient is the gum of choice. If you have a dry mouth, you could also fill a drinking bottle with water and add two teaspoons of baking soda for each 8 ounces of water and swish and spit it out frequently throughout the day. Toothpastes containing baking soda are also available from several companies.
Prescription rinses are able to reduce the number of bacteria that cause tooth decay and can be useful in patients at high risk for tooth decay.
In some people, the grooves on the surfaces of the teeth are too narrow and deep to clean with a toothbrush, so they may decay in spite of your best efforts. Sealants are plastic coatings bonded to the biting surface of back teeth to protect the deep grooves from decay. Sealants are an excellent preventative measure for children and young adults at risk for this type of decay.
What Is Fluoride, And Why Is It Good For My Teeth?
Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found universally throughout nature in water, soil, air and in most foods. Existing abundantly in living tissue as an ion, fluoride is absorbed easily into tooth enamel, especially in children’s growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is even visible.
“Systemic” fluoride is ingested when added to public and private water supplies, soft drinks and teas, and is available in dietary supplement form. Once systemic fluoride is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract, the blood supply distributes it throughout the entire body. Most fluoride not excreted is deposited in bones and hard tissues like teeth.
What’s a “topical” fluoride, and when should I use it?
“Topical” fluoride is found in products containing strong concentrations of fluoride to fight tooth decay. These products, including toothpastes and mouthrinses, are applied directly to the teeth and are then expectorated or rinsed from the mouth without swallowing. Dentists recommend brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day or after every meal, combined with a regimen of flossing and regular dental checkups.
Professionally-administered topical fluorides such as gels or varnishes are applied by the dentist and left on for about four minutes, usually during a cleaning treatment. For patients with a high risk of dental caries, the dentist may prescribe a special gel for daily home use, to be applied with or without a mouth tray for up to six weeks.
Why is most of the water we drink fluoridated?
Fluoridated water protects against cavities and root caries-a progressive erosion of adult root surfaces caused by gum recession-and helps remineralize early carious lesions. Thanks to these preventive benefits, public water fluoridation is considered the most efficient and cost-effective dental caries prevention measure available. More than 144 million United States residents in more than 10,000 communities drink fluoridated water, most from public water supplies with sodium fluoride added artificially. A small percentage get water from private wells with naturally fluoridated water.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the accepted “optimal” range of fluoride in water lies between 0.7 and 1.2 parts per million (ppm) or mg per liter. The limit allowed by the EPA in public water is 4 ppm. Backed by results from more than 140 documented studies undertaken in 20 different countries over the past several decades, fluoridated water adhering to these standards has been scientifically established as safe for drinking. Water fluoridation is endorsed by nearly every major health and safety-related organization. Fluoridation of community water supplies is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and to improve oral health for a lifetime.
Can I get too much fluoride?
In general, the use of fluoride is considered safe unless it’s misused or overconcentrated. Drinking excessively fluoridated water can cause dental fluorosis, a harmless cosmetic discoloring or mottling of the enamel, visible by chalky white specks and lines or pitted and brown stained enamel on developing teeth.
Avoid swallowing toothpaste, mouthrinses or other topical supplements, check with your dentist on proper dosage, and be careful not to accidentally take too much. If you are concerned about the fluoride levels in your drinking water, call the local public water department. If the source is a private well, request a fluoride content analysis taken via a water sample through your local or county health department.
Are children more sensitive to fluoride?
Children are more vulnerable to dental fluorosis because their developing teeth are sensitive to higher fluoride levels. They are at greater risk if they swallow or use too much toothpaste and fluoride supplements, or regularly drink water containing excessive fluoride levels. Monitor your child’s intake and use of fluoride, and consult with your family dentist on the matter.