Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that has been used for decades to prevent tooth decay. It’s added to most toothpaste and drinking water in the majority of communities in the U.S., including almost all of Tennessee. In Knox County, a fluoride varnish is applied to some children’s teeth as part of the school dental program.
How Does Fluoride Work?
In children, it concentrates in growing bones and teeth, helping to harden the enamel on teeth before they emerge. In adults, fluoride helps to rebuild the enamel on already-emerged teeth and reverses early signs of tooth decay.
According to the American Dental Association, fluoride has greatly reduced tooth decay, particularly in communities where it’s added to the public water supply.
In some cases, fluoride treatments may also be recommended, particularly if you or your children are very prone to tooth decay or if you use well water, which may have less than the recommended levels of fluoride.
Benefits and Possible Concerns
Fluoride can be controversial, however. Some people are worried about negative effects on health, particularly when it comes to children. A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study raised concerns about the mineral’s impact on children’s developing brains and recommended that more research be done.
Generally, most public health agencies strongly support the use of fluoride and believe it delivers great benefits. The Centers for Disease Control calls fluoride in public water supplies one of the 10 great public health achievements of the past century. Most experts believe that the side effects of fluoride treatments are relatively rare and mild when used in the proper amounts.
If you or your children are at high risk for tooth decay, you might want to discuss fluoride treatments with our staff. It can be administered in the following ways:
- In our office. We can either paint your teeth with a fluoride gel or put gel into mouth guards that you’ll wear for one to four minutes. It’s quick and easy, and all you have to do is not eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes afterward.
- Using a gel at home. These are available with a prescription.
- With tablets, drops, or lozenges. These are only recommended for children who don’t have the recommended fluoride in their drinking water and are at high risk for developing tooth decay.
What are potential side effects of fluoride treatments?
- White spots on your teeth – These can develop if you consume greater than the recommended amounts of fluoride in early childhood. They are often barely noticeable to anyone but your dentist.
- Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Mouth sores
- Rashes (if you’re allergic to fluoride)
- More serious reactions such as bone problems and gastrointestinal bleeding can occur, but these are usually due to prolonged exposure to much higher doses of fluoride than those that are recommended.
Dr. Wesley Mullins and his dental team at My Family Dentistry are always happy to speak with you. We can address your specific fluoride needs and concerns or any potential side effects of fluoride treatments.