Fluoride, a mineral found naturally in rocks and soil, is known as nature's cavity fighter for its ability to help prevent cavities. Cities around the world therefore add fluoride to their public water supply to protect people's teeth naturally as they use their household tap.
Fluoride strengthens your enamel and helps to prevent tooth decay. When added to water, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent. This effect is seen in both children and adults, so you're never too old to benefit from water fluoridation.
How Fluoride Works
Tooth enamel is made of numerous minerals, and every day some of them are lost due to acid attacks that occur inside your mouth following a meal. This process is known as demineralization. By the same token, minerals like fluoride and calcium can be re-added to your tooth enamel though a process of remineralization. Fluoride helps to speed up this effect, which in turn strengthens your tooth enamel. Too much demineralization leads to tooth decay, which is why fluoride plays such an important role in some of the things you consume on a regular basis.
How It Works in Water
Water fluoridation is widespread in the United States, as observed by the American Dental Association (ADA), and about three-quarters of the population receives fluoridated water from their community water system. Other developed countries add fluoride to their water supplies as well, albeit in different ways and parts of their community. When you drink water, its fluoride washes over your teeth and is absorbed by your enamel in much the same way as when you use mouthwash. If your municipality doesn't add fluoride to your water supply, or if you get your water from a private well that doesn't contain fluoride, you'll need to ensure it's present in other sources to protect your teeth.
Other Sources of Fluoride
Using fluoride toothpaste is the best and most well-known way to keep your teeth healthy. Brush your teeth twice a day with Colgate Total® Clean Mint Toothpaste or another item that includes fluoride in its ingredient list. Remember to use a soft-bristled toothbrush to keep your enamel safe from physical abrasion; hard bristles can be harmful over time.
Your may consider receiving in-office fluoride treatments as well, and it can be delivered in a few different forms. The dentist may apply a fluoride foam, gel or varnish to your teeth, after which point he or she will recommend waiting to eat or drink for four to six hours. It's important to follow these directions to maximize your treatment's effectiveness.
At-home fluoride treatments are available for people with a high risk of tooth decay, such as those with dry mouth or who are receiving radiation treatments. If your dentist does determine that you can benefit from these applications, you may be prescribed a prescription fluoride gel to apply on your own.
Water fluoridation has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of tooth decay. If your tap water doesn't have added fluoride, talk to your dentist to find out how you'd benefit from other sources.