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.

Systemic fluorides are those that are ingested into the body from sources such as water supplies or dietary supplements in the form of tablets, drops or lozenges, and become incorporated into developing tooth structures.  Systemic fluorides can also give some topical protection because fluoride is present in saliva, which continually bathes the teeth.

Fluorides can help prevent tooth decay during two stages of an individual’s life:

  1. When teeth are forming, fluoride helps the tooth structure become more resistant to cavities.
  2. After all teeth are formed, topic fluoride application can help prevent decay.

Brushing children’s teeth should begin as soon as they begin to come into the mouth.  To avoid over-exposure to fluoride from toothpaste, the recommendation for children younger than 3 years is an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice.  For children 3 to 6 years of age, no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste should be dispensed.  Fluoride mouthwashes should not be used for children under six years of age because they may swallow it.

An excess of fluoride consumption causes stains and defects, called dental fluorosis, and is only cosmetic, having no effect on the health or function of teeth. Once the child’s adult teeth come in (usually around age 8), the risk of developing fluorosis is over.

No matter how you get the fluoride you need — whether it be through your drinking water, supplements, toothpaste, mouthwash, or professionally applied fluoride — you can be confident that fluoride is silently at work fighting decay.  Safe, convenient, effective however you describe it, fluoride fits naturally into any dental care program.  For more information about the oral health benefits of fluoride, just ask your dentist.

If you are interested in fluoride treatment in Costa Rica, fill out the “Find a Dentist” form on this page.  One of our patient advocates will reply to your needs.