How Fluoride Protects Your Teeth from Decay
We all know that fluoride plays an enormous role in dental health. Your dentist provides fluoride treatments, your toothpaste contains fluoride (and maybe your mouthwash, too)—and it’s even added to your tap water as a public health service. But do you know what fluoride actually does for your teeth? It’s somewhat miraculous how this naturally occurring mineral salt manages to heal and strengthen teeth, while fighting off the bacteria that harm them.
There are a certain number of people who oppose the use of fluoride and label it a toxic poison. They are correct in the sense that too much fluoride can most definitely poison a human being. That’s why we don’t recommend small children use fluoride toothpaste until they can be relied upon to spit it out after brushing. However, like many other medicines that are toxic in high quantities, fluoride can be extremely beneficial in smaller doses.
Fluoride’s Three Primary Benefits
Exposing your teeth to fluoride has three significant benefits that you can’t get elsewhere. No other naturally occurring substance comes close to protecting and strengthening your teeth the way that fluoride does.
1. Fluoride Remineralizes Tooth Enamel
Most of the damage our teeth endure is caused by acid. Acids from foods and beverages and acids excreted from bacteria dissolve the minerals that make up each tooth. With enough acid exposure, the calcium is dissolved from the outer layer of your tooth and a soft spot forms. If neglected, this soft spot will eventually become a proper hole in your tooth, also called a cavity.
Applying fluoride to the teeth not only stops the demineralization process, but can actually reverse it. When fluoride is applied to the teeth, it attracts other minerals into your enamel, calcium specifically. Our teeth are mostly hydroxyapatite, a crystalline form of calcium. When fluoride starts pulling calcium back into the tooth’s chemical make-up, it gives it the tools it needs to rebuild its structure.
2. Fluoride Makes Teeth Stronger
Once fluoride has been applied to a soft spot on a tooth, it attracts calcium to remineralize the tooth. When this happens the tooth actually creates a new form of calcium that is stronger than the enamel you were born with. We mentioned that teeth are naturally made from hydroxyapatite; after being remineralized with fluoride, a substance called fluorapatite results. Why is this significant? Hydroxyapatite is only resistant to acids with a pH factor of 5.5, but fluorapatite is resistant to acids with a pH of 4.5. (The lower the pH, the stronger the acid.) This means that a tooth treated with fluoride will resist decay better than an untreated tooth.
3. Fluoride Fights Off Bacteria
As if the first two chemical properties weren’t enough, fluoride also works on a chemical level to inhibit mouth bacteria. Bacteria consume the sugars and starches left on the teeth after we eat. When they metabolize those carbohydrates, they excrete the acids that damage teeth. That’s why too much sugar is so terrible for your teeth. More sugar equals more acid. When fluoride is present, however, it prevents bacteria from being able to metabolize their food. By cutting off their food supply, fluoride prevents bacteria from eating, multiplying, and damaging the teeth.
How to Use Fluoride at Home
Now that you know how helpful fluoride can be, here’s a final tip on how to make the most of your fluoride-containing oral hygiene products at home. If you are in the habit of rinsing your mouth with water after you brush your teeth, try this instead. Don’t rinse with water, but simply spit out any excess into the sink. By not rinsing with water, you leave a small amount of fluoride on the teeth, where it can continue to do its good work for the next hour or so.
If you use a fluoride rinse, be sure to use it after you brush your teeth. When you have finished rinsing, be sure to avoid foods and beverages for at least 30 minutes. Even drinking water too soon after a fluoride rinse will reduce its efficiency in protecting and strengthening your enamel.
Want to learn more about protecting your family’s smiles? Visit Dr. Scott Lee at Desert Family Dental. Call our Mesa, AZ dental clinic at 480-838-4185 to make an appointment.