From Toothpaste to SDF, Why Is Fluoride So Good for Our Teeth?

Pediatric dentists make a pretty big deal about fluoride and how important it is for teeth. Truly, fluoride is the best cavity fighting ingredient out there, helping our teeth stay healthy and strong. Fluoride can be so versatile that we recommend its use not only as a great preventive strategy, but we can even use some formulations of it to treat existing cavities. How, you ask? Read on to learn more about a medication called SDF (silver diamine fluoride) and why many pediatric dentists recommend SDF to treat certain types of cavities.  

How Does Fluoride Prevent and Repair Cavities? 

Bacteria in plaque (the sticky film that builds up daily on our teeth) produce acids that seep into tooth enamel and break it down. This process of enamel breakdown is what causes cavities over time. It all starts with a part of the tooth surface becoming “demineralized” (from bacterial acid production in response to carbohydrates), and if the process is not disrupted, the eventual continued breakdown forms an actual hole (a cavity), and more bacteria enter this hole and cause more damage. But where plaque breaks down the tooth, fluoride helps to build it up! 

Fluoride, a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods and water sources, protects teeth from cavity-causing bacteria by making tooth enamel more resistant to bacteria’s acid attacks. Enamel that has fluoride incorporated into it with topical fluoride applications has a higher threshold against breakdown. Fluoride also helps repair tooth decay in its early stages by building up the tooth in a process called “remineralization.” This cavity-fighting mineral even reduces the ability of plaque bacteria to produce acid in the first place!

What are Sources of Fluoride? 

Fluoride can be directly applied to the teeth through fluoridated toothpastes and mouth rinses. In fact, toothpaste with fluoride has been responsible for a significant drop in cavities since its commercial introduction in 1960. Dental offices also offer higher-strength topical fluoride application to teeth as a gel, foam, or varnish. 

For young kids, a varnish is the most appropriate way to apply this fluoride treatment. Getting a fluoride treatment periodically is important because it contains a higher concentration of fluoride. There is great evidence that fluoride treatments 2 times a year or more frequently lower a child’s risk of suffering from severe dental disease. 

For patients who have developed carious lesions, we can prevent the cavity from growing and sometimes even avoid the need for a filling by treating the area with silver diamine fluoride. It stops bacteria from sticking to the tooth so that it’s harder for it to increase in size. SDF treatments are quick and easy because they are simply a matter of painting the SDF onto the affected area.

Can Fluoride Be Harmful or Toxic? 

Proper amounts of exposure to fluoride can be especially beneficial for infants and children, because, between the ages of six months and 16 years, fluoride becomes incorporated into the developing permanent teeth, making them more resistant against cavity-causing bacteria.  

However, too much fluoride exposure in early childhood can lead to fluorosis or brown staining of the tooth enamel, so make sure to only use small amounts of toothpaste when brushing your child’s teeth, and keep toothpaste out of reach. Treat it similarly to how you would treat other supplements like daily vitamins or iron — too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Fluoride continues to be important throughout life. Adults and children alike need to get enough fluoride to protect their teeth. Appropriate fluoride exposure helps fight tooth decay after the permanent teeth have all come in, which is just as important as using it to strengthen developing teeth. 

There are wild conspiracy theories you can find online about the use of fluoride and it being a tool the government uses to exert mind control and other nonsense. No rational argument can be made to counter those irrational assertions, so I won’t even try. I will tell you this though: in our family, we use fluoride, for the kids and grown-ups alike. 

Are Cavities Preventable? 

The take-home message is this: fluoride helps in the prevention of tooth decay and silver diamine fluoride helps prevent it from getting worse. If you have any questions about fluoride and the treatments offered by a board-certified pediatric dentist, schedule a visit with Dr. Ball. We would love to hear from you! You can also check out our business page here to learn more about us.

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