There is no doubt that fluoride plays an essential role in oral health. A naturally occurring mineral found in small amounts in water and in certain foods, fluoride is the active ingredient in most store-bought toothpastes and in some mouth rinses. Through its chemical action on bacteria in the mouth, fluoride works to prevent, and to some extent reverse, tooth decay and resulting cavities. Fluoride also strengthens teeth by restoring essential minerals to the tooth enamel. Using several sources of fluoride is one recommended way to promote overall oral health.
Fluoride treatments refer to a range of methods of delivering fluoride to the teeth, either topically or systematically through the bloodstream. Topical fluoride treatments are administered professionally in a dentist’s office and differ from over-the-counter fluoridated products in two keys ways. Firstly, the fluoride preparations used during in-office treatments have a different chemical formula that makes them longer-lasting than store-bought products. Secondly, professional fluoride treatments use a stronger concentration of fluoride compared to ordinary toothpaste or mouth wash. For these reasons, topical fluoride treatments done in a dentist’s office have a markedly more potent effect.
Topical fluoride treatments include foams, gels and varnishes, which may or may not be flavored. Teeth are first cleaned and thoroughly dried to prevent the topical fluoride from becoming diluted. Fluoride varnishes are particularly effective because they can be painted directly onto problem or cavity-prone areas of the teeth. Fluoride foams and gels are placed inside a mouth guard which is then fitted onto the patient’s teeth for 1 to 5 minutes. To optimize the action of topical fluoride, patients must refrain from eating, smoking or drinking for at least 30 minutes after treatment.
It is important to remember that fluoride is a powerful substance. Topical fluoride that is not properly applied or that is applied in dosages that are too high, can result in mouth irritation and even burns. Thus, it is best to forego over-the-counter topical fluoride products and have your fluoride treatment done professionally by a dentist.
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