Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in public water supplies and in some foods. It is extremely useful for dental health because it hardens teeth, increasing their resistance to acids in the mouth that can cause tooth decay. Fluoride can help to fight tooth decay in two ways, as it can be ingested or applied topically. We frequently provide topical applications of fluoride in the form of fluoride varnish to help protect our patient’s teeth. People often associate fluoride treatments with children’s dentistry, but this procedure is also highly suitable for adults. We often recommend our adult patients have fluoride varnish as a preventative treatment.
What Causes Tooth Decay and What Role Is Played by Fluoride?
Tooth decay is caused when plaque, a sticky film containing bacteria builds up over teeth. The bacteria in plaque break down sugars found in foods as an energy source. As they do so, they create acids that will soften tooth enamel by dissolving some of the minerals in the enamel. This is a process called demineralization and over time can cause cavities to form in teeth due to the gradual loss of these minerals. It occurs soon after eating and continues for approximately half an hour to an hour afterward until acidity levels in the mouth begin to normalize. At this stage, a process called remineralization takes place, where some of the minerals that are still in your saliva are redeposited into the tooth enamel, helping to re-harden it. The presence of fluoride helps this process.
When fluoride is applied topically to teeth it can penetrate the tooth enamel, helping to harden it. Fluoride also interrupts the way decay-causing bacteria work by making it harder for them to adhere to teeth. This makes it easier for saliva to wash away these bacteria and for them to be removed by regular brushing and flossing. Every time you brush with fluoridated toothpaste, a thin layer of fluoride ions remains on the tooth surfaces providing a protective effect. However, professional applications of fluoride provide a far greater degree of protection and can be especially useful if you have recently had a cavity or two. Some people may also be a bit more prone to developing cavities than others. Fluoride applications can be helpful if you have small lesions on your teeth, indicating the beginnings of tooth decay. By re-hardening your tooth enamel, we might be able to prevent these lesions from worsening.
Using Fluoride Varnish to Protect Teeth
Fluoride varnish applications are quick, cost-effective, non-invasive and painless. To apply the varnish, your teeth will be cleaned and dried before the varnish is painted onto your teeth. It soon dries to leave a yellow film over the teeth and should be left in place for several hours or even overnight, so it can penetrate the tooth enamel. The varnish is designed to slowly release fluoride, increasing the efficacy of this treatment. You will still be able to eat, and drink and the varnish is easily removed when you brush your teeth.
How Frequently Will I Need Fluoride Varnish applications?
The frequency will depend on your personal risk for tooth decay and is determined during your regular dental examination. People with a higher risk of cavities might benefit from twice yearly applications while those at lower risk might only need yearly treatments.