You might have heard that fluoride is important for kids while their teeth are developing, but did you know that it's equally as important for you? The use of fluoride can benefit both children and adults. You can look to credible sources such as the American Dental Association to see the science behind the fact that fluoride applied directly to teeth is essential for fighting tooth decay.
Regardless of their risk level, all adults, unless advised otherwise by a dentist or a physician, should use fluoride toothpaste. Because some adults are at higher risk of decay than others, they might need more intensive use of fluoride. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about the use of fluoride, especially in adults.
What are the different types of fluoride treatment?
You can receive a fluoride treatment at your dentist's office or give yourself fluoride treatments at home. If you head into the dentist's office, it is a simple and relatively quick procedure. Your dentist or hygienist dries off your mouth and applies a paint, foam or varnish. Some dentists put a gel or foam into a custom tray that you wear for a few minutes. You're typically asked not to eat or drink anything and to avoid smoking for 30 minutes afterward. Plan your day accordingly, you don't want to get hangry while allowing for that wait time. Dental-office fluoride treatments provide fluoride at high levels, and you know the dentist is taking care of you, but you can do treatments on your own at home if that works better for your schedule.
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. These treatments are usually prescription gels that can be brushed onto the teeth. Your dentist can prescribe these treatments based on your particular needs and risk of dental decay and can provide specific statistics on the treatment you will receive. They will try to make the process easy to deal with at home.
Read the ingredients listed before using any product to see the specific amounts provided, as they will vary.
Can adults benefit from fluoride?
Yes, absolutely! It's a common misconception that fluoride mainly worked by strengthening teeth while they were still developing. But there's good news! Studies now show that topical fluoride - the kind in toothpaste, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatments - helps fight decay, also known as caries, in people of all ages.
How do I know if I need a supplemental fluoride treatment?
If your drinking water is fluoridated, then brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste is considered sufficient for most adults with healthy teeth. 43 of the 50 largest U.S. cities add fluoride to their public water supplies to help reduce tooth decay. 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.
1. Are you taking any medicines that cause your mouth to become dry? Do you have a condition that causes dry mouth?
Many adults take medications that include dry mouth as a common side effect. They include antihistamines and medicines for allergies, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Some diseases can also cause dry mouth. The two most notable are Sjögren's syndrome and diabetes.
If you have dry mouth, try using a fluoride mouthwash. It can help to moisten your mouth and protect your teeth. You can also buy saliva substitutes at the pharmacy. Many people use them to replace the saliva they lack.
Sucking on sugar-free hard candy or chewing sugar-free gum increases the flow of saliva. Products that contain xylitol are very helpful. This natural sugar helps to protect teeth from decay because the bacteria cannot use xylitol as food.
2. Have your gums receded so more of your teeth show? Or has your dentist told you that you have periodontal (gum) disease?
By the time you're an adult, you need to consider that you may already have some form of gum disease.This is a treatable condition that can cause your gums to recede and expose more of your teeth. Receding gums give bacteria more room to roam, thus giving you at risk of getting cavities below the enamel, in the roots of your teeth. Don't worry though - it's common! The American Academy of Periodontology notes findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that half of Americans 30 or older have periodontitis. Your dentist can provide guidance to help you get back on the right track.
To protect your teeth's roots, your dentist can paint a fluoride varnish or gel on them. You can use a fluoride mouthwash or a prescription fluoride gel to get more fluoride onto the teeth and root surfaces.
3. Have you needed a filling in the last year?
If you have had recent tooth decay, you may be at risk for more. You still have the bacteria and other conditions in your mouth that can lead to cavities. The use of fluoride should be an essential part of your daily oral health care regimen if you have prior cavities.
4. Do you have crowned teeth or bridges?
Crowned teeth are not safe from cavities. As long as some natural tooth remains, these teeth are at risk. The edges of fillings or crowns can be hiding places for decay-causing bacteria. Fluoride can protect the tooth from decay. In some instances, it can slow down the decay process and allow the tooth to remineralize.
5. Are you wearing dental braces?
Braces typically make it more challenging to clean all areas of the teeth. They provide niches where food can become lodged. The plaque that forms, as a result, contains bacteria that can cause cavities. Your dentist can recommend a fluoride rinse or gel. Daily application of the rinse or gel helps to protect the teeth against cavities, as well as using floss threaders and brushing at the gumline.
6. Are you receiving, or have you received, radiation therapy to the head and neck?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, adults who get this type of therapy are at a very high risk of tooth decay. That's because the radiation damages their salivary glands. This damage causes dry mouth. Saliva fights tooth decay, so people with dry mouth are at higher risk for decay. You should share your experience with your dentist and they can help guide you through some steps to take that can help with the dry mouth symptoms.
If dry mouth results from radiation therapy, then using generous amounts of fluoride rinse can help to prevent decay. Your dentist can make a custom tray to hold the fluoride gel. You place this tray over your teeth for the prescribed time your dentist suggests. to ensure more prolonged contact with the fluoride. After applying the fluoride, you must not rinse your mouth for 30 minutes. You also should visit your dentist every 2 to 3 months, or as recommended.
What to Do
Talk to your dentist to determine your risk of dental decay. You can reduce this risk in several ways:
- Reduce frequent snacking, especially carbohydrates
- Use fluoride toothpaste and mouthrinse to strengthen teeth
- Brush twice a day and floss daily
- Use an antimicrobial toothpaste & mouthrinse if you have gum disease
- Chew sugarless gum or use xylitol lozenges
People can keep their teeth for much longer than was previously possible. The use of fluoride and good oral hygiene practices can ensure that your teeth remain healthy as you age.