What Does Fluoride Do?

Many people recognize fluoride as a product in their toothpaste and an additive to their water supply, but they may not know what fluoride does to benefit their teeth.

How does fluoride help your teeth?

Fluoride works to benefit your teeth primarily in two ways: remineralization and bacterial control.


Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by aiding in the remineralization of the teeth. Teeth develop decay as the acid from the microbes within the mouth start to demineralize the tooth enamel. When tooth enamel is exposed to increasing levels of acid, important minerals within the tooth material, such as phosphorus and calcium, are dissolved. Over time, a hole or cavity can develop within the tooth.

When fluoride enters the mouth, it coats the teeth and attracts the displaced minerals back to the tooth surface. It then interacts with the minerals to form a new tooth material. This new material is actually more acid-resistant than the original tooth enamel. As a result, fluoride can help repair the teeth and lessen your chance of tooth decay.

Bacterial Control

Although the exact mechanism through which fluoride negatively affects oral bacteria is not fully understood, fluoride has an antimicrobial effect on the bacteria within the mouth. It is believed that this effect may be caused by fluoride’s ability to increase acid sensitivity in oral bacteria, such as in Streptococcus mutans. Since Streptococcus mutans is one of the primary bacteria associated with tooth decay, an adverse influence on the bacteria’s ability to release acid can help salvage your teeth from additional decay.

Why are fluoride treatments necessary?

Fluoride treatments are used to help avoid tooth decay. Still, you may be wondering why a special treatment is needed if fluoride is already present in your toothpaste and drinking water.

The amount of fluoride available in your toothpaste and water may still be too little to have a major impact on the health of your teeth. The fluoride concentration in water, toothpaste and other products is regulated to avoid over-consumption of the substance. The ingestion of too much fluoride can be harmful to your health. However, adequate levels of fluoride are still needed to help prevent and treat tooth decay.

What happens during a professional fluoride treatment?

When your dentist applies fluoride to your mouth, he or she may use a foam mouthguard. The fluoride product is applied to the guard, and the guard is positioned over your teeth. After the recommended treatment time, which is usually a few minutes, the guard is removed and any residual product is rinsed from the mouth. Your dentist may also apply fluoride as a foam or varnish that is painted onto the teeth. In either case, you may be restricted from eating or drinking for about half an hour following your treatment.

Are there specialized fluoride treatments for use at home?

Fluoride gels can be purchased over-the-counter and applied to your teeth. The gels are allowed to remain in place for a few minutes before being rinsed away. The application method is similar to that of a professional treatment, but the fluoride concentration in these over-the-counter products is usually lower. These supplements are not designed as standalone products. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with other fluoride-containing items, such as toothpaste. If a more concentrated dosage of fluoride is needed, your dentist would need to prescribe it for you.

Who can benefit from a fluoride treatment?

There are multiple instances in which a fluoride treatment is deemed beneficial, such as the following:

  • Pediatric dental care- Young children, especially those who suffer from repeated bouts of tooth decay or who do not have access to fluoridated water, can benefit from fluoride supplementation.
  • Orthodontic patients- If you wear braces, a fluoride treatment can be particularly helpful at keeping bacteria from becoming trapped beneath the wires of your appliance.
  • People being treated with radiation therapy- Radiation therapy is often used to treat different kinds of cancer. When the radiation is used to target the head and neck regions, it can lower saliva production. This reduction in saliva is associated with an increase in oral bacteria and dental decay.

To determine whether or not a fluoride treatment could benefit your oral health, schedule a consultation with our office.