Cavities and trips to the dentist for fillings used to be an ugly fact of life. But over the past few decades, tooth decay has been reduced dramatically. The key reason? Fluoride. Research indicates that fluoride is effective in reducing cavities in both children and adults. Because bacteria in the mouth combines with sugars to produce acid that can harm tooth enamel and damage teeth, fluoride is an important trace mineral for all children, helping to reverse and repair early signs of decay — even before the decay becomes visible — and protecting teeth from acid damage. Like any other substance, fluoride is safe and effective when used appropriately.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources, including the oceans. In locations when fluoride levels are too low, most municipal water systems in the USA add it to the water supply. The fluoride ion comes from the element fluorine — the 17th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, but it is never encountered in its free state in nature. Rather, it exists only in combination with other elements as a fluoride compound.
We obtain fluoride in two ways: topical and systemic. Topical fluorides strengthen teeth already present in the mouth making them more decay-resistant. Topical sources include toothpastes, mouthwash, and gels or lotion that are professionally applied by dentists on the surface of teeth every 3-6 months.