What is Fluoride?
That a compound made from fluorine should be so useful in dental health is ironic. Fluorine, a halogen with the atomic number 9, is one of the nastiest elements known. It ruthlessly attacks anything it comes into contact with and is too dangerous to handle without special equipment. Yet, when it combines with elements like tin or sodium, it transforms into one of the most useful and stable of substances.
What is Fluoride used for?
Tin or stannous fluoride has been used by dentists for decades to protect their patient’s teeth from cavities. This is because stannous fluoride turns apatite, a mineral made from calcium, into fluorapatite. Fluorapatite fortifies tooth enamel against deterioration by acids produced by the bacteria that stick to the teeth. It even repairs the beginning stages of tooth decay. Stannous fluoride also lowers the risk of gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums that can lead to periodontal disease. Sodium fluoride is used to protect teeth, but it is not as strong as stannous fluoride in guarding against cavities or gum disease since its potency decreases over time.
Fluoride in water
Fluorides are found naturally in food and in drinking water, and some cities deliberately add fluoride to their water systems. Fluoridated water reduces the number of cavities in children by as much as 25 percent and actually strengthens the developing permanent teeth in children under six. But the dentist still adds topical fluorides to their patient’s teeth when they come in for a cleaning.
Fluoride at the dentist
The fluoride that the dentist applies to the teeth is much stronger than the fluoride found in toothpaste or store-bought mouthwash. It can be in the form of a varnish, a gel or foam. The dentist paints the varnish over the teeth, while gels and foams are placed in a mouth guard that the patient wears for a few minutes. Fluoride gel can also be painted on. A doctor who thinks their patient needs more fluoride can prescribe supplements in liquid or tablet form.