What is the best way to use fluoride?
Q. Why are dentists always recommending more fluoride? Doesn’t my regular toothpaste already have fluoride in it?
A. Yes, your normal toothpaste contains fluoride. Most city water systems have fluoride added to them also. For some people, this amount of fluoride is sufficient. For others that are more prone to decay, a higher level of fluoride may be indicated.
The enamel of teeth is made up of a framework of crystals. This crystal framework and its fillers are what is destroyed by the acid that decay-causing bacteria produce. When teeth are exposed to acidic substances (like sodas and sports drinks) regularly, it creates an environment that accelerates this process. When fluoride is incorporated into the crystals of the tooth structure, it makes them less susceptible to being dissolved and slows the decay rate.
In addition to being incorporated into the crystalline structure of teeth, fluoride also has antibacterial properties. At low pH, it interferes with the enzymes that bacteria use to break sugar into acids to break down your teeth.
Sources of fluoride
You can get fluoride in two ways: systemically (swallowed and then the body absorbs it into the system) and topically (applied to the surface of the tooth). The main source of systemic fluoride exposure is fluoride-supplemented water. Most city water systems contain a small amount of fluoride (around 1 ppm). Topical fluoride includes your normal toothpaste, prescription strength rinses, foams, gels, varnishes, and toothpastes dispensed by your dentist.
How to know if you need more fluoride
For those who take good care of their teeth, over-the-counter toothpaste likely contains enough fluoride to prevent decay. However, if your teeth are regularly exposed to things that accelerate decay like sugary and acidic foods and beverages and dry mouth you may benefit from higher levels of fluoride in your dental hygiene routine.
Fluoride will benefit your teeth the most when they are exposed to it on a regular basis. For this reason, the best way to prevent decay is to focus on consistent application of topical fluoride treatments.