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General Dentistry: How Does Fluoride Protect Teeth From Cavities?
Fluoride is a common material used in general dentistry, and for good reason. This mineral has the impressive capability to not only fight cavities but also to reverse early dental carries.
How cavities occur
Most people know what types of food and beverages cause cavities, but not as many are aware of the why behind the phenomenon. When a person consumes sugary or acidic foods such as candy, soda, wine, or noodles, bacteria that naturally occurs in the mouth starts to feed on the carbohydrates and sugars in these foods. This bacteria, in turn, produces acids that attack the enamel and strip it of its naturally protective minerals, leaving the teeth more vulnerable to cavities and decay.
The good news is that the body is always prepared to defend itself. Saliva can disrupt the process and restore the phosphate and calcium that was lost. Fluoride does calcium and phosphate one better, though.
How fluoride can reverse the decay process
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral with, in the general dentistry world, superhero capabilities. When fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate, it creates a substance called fluoroapatite, which is much stronger than the mineral enamel and bone is made of, hydroxyapatite. This robust mineral essentially attaches itself to the enamel, creating a powerful defense system against decay.
When decay is already present, fluoride can help with the remineralization process. When acid eats away at the hydroxyapatite, it forms small cavities, or carious lesions. When a person with caries applies topical fluoride frequently and in low concentrations, the fluoroapatite seeps into the lesions and begin to re-mineralize them. Over time, the rate of growth and size of the fluoride crystals increases, thereby accelerating the remineralization process of the enamel. Moreover, these larger, fluoride-based crystals are much more resistant to acid attacks than naturally occurring hydroxyapatite.
Where fluoride can be found
Fluoride naturally occurs in nature and is in fact the 13th most prevalent mineral on Earth, according to Scientific American. It is present in all of the planet’s water and, to some extent, all consumer foods and beverages. However, each country has its own standards for how much fluoride water should contain. In the U.S., the optimal concentration is 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million.
In addition to being in the U.S.’s water and food sources, fluoride is also added to dental products. Individuals can make fluoride work for them by brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, swishing with fluoridated mouthwash, and drinking plenty of water.
Every person over the age of three should brush with a toothpaste with the ADA’s seal of approval. Parents should brush younger children’s teeth with pea-sized amounts of fluoridated toothpaste to encourage healthy tooth growth. Children who live in communities in which the drinking water contains too little fluoride should take fluoride supplements.
While individuals can benefit from fluoride by simply brushing and swishing with fluoridated mouthwash and drinking community water, it is still important that they maintain regular general dentistry checkups. Dentists often can perform fluoride treatments during biannual visits, so it is worth asking about said treatments to strengthen your teeth.
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