New research shows that everyone can benefit from fluoride. Experts used to think that fluoride worked mainly by strengthening teeth while they were still developing. This meant that children were the focus of fluoridation efforts. Studies now show that topical fluoride — the kind in toothpastes, mouth rinses and fluoride treatments — help fight decay in people of all ages.
If your drinking water is fluoridated, then brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste is considered sufficient for most adults with healthy teeth. You can find out if your water is fluoridated by calling your local water district, or by having your water analyzed if it comes from a private well.
People who drink mostly bottled water and those with the following conditions should talk to their dentist about special fluoride treatments:
- If you are taking medications that cause dry mouth or have a disease that causes dry mouth. Without saliva to neutralize the acids in your mouth and wash away food particles, you're more susceptible to tooth decay.
- If your gums have receded or pulled away from the teeth. This gives bacteria more room to roam and hastens tooth decay.
- If you wear braces. Braces and other orthodontic appliances trap a lot of bacteria that can lead to cavities.
- If you've had radiation therapy to the neck or head. Radiation damages the salivary glands, causing dry mouth.
You can receive fluoride treatment at your dentist's office or give yourself fluoride treatments at home. With dental-office fluoride treatments, your dentist or hygienist dries off your mouth and applies a paint, foam or varnish. Some dentists put a gel or foam into a mouth guard that you wear for a few minutes. You're asked not to eat or drink anything and to avoid smoking for 30 minutes afterward.
At-home fluoride treatments for adults, mostly gels, are also available by prescription, based on your particular needs, your risk of dental decay and the level of fluoride in your local water supply.
Regardless of risk, all adults should use a fluoride toothpaste, which have been proven to help prevent tooth decay.