What is it?

Fluoride is an element that is found naturally in soil, water, foods, plants, rocks, and air.

Adding fluoride to the water supply can significantly reduce the incidence of tooth decay at an economical price.

What does it do?

Fluoride protects teeth from decay by strengthening the enamel layer (outer layer) of the tooth.

What are the benefits of fluoride?


  • Remineralizes weak tooth enamel
  • Slows down the loss of minerals from the tooth enamel.
  • Reverses early signs of tooth decay
  • Prevents the growth of harmful oral bacteria

When bacteria in your mouth breaks down sugar and carbs they produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel. This is called demineralization. Weakened tooth enamel leaves your teeth vulnerable to bacteria that cause cavities. Fluoride helps to remineralize your tooth enamel, which can prevent cavities and reverse early signs of tooth decay. Fluoride sticks to the surface of our teeth to protect them from the acid. Fluoride also attracts calcium that is present in our saliva, which helps keep our teeth strong. 

 Why do I need fluoride?

  • Tooth decay remains the #1 chronic childhood disease in America.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average number of missing or decayed teeth in twelve-year-old children in the United States dropped by 68% from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. This followed the expansion of fluoridated water in communities as well as the addition of fluoride to toothpaste and other dental products.
  • The CDC named fluoridated water one of the top ten great public health achievements of the 20th century! 
  • Every dollar invested in fluoridation saves approximately 38 dollars in dental treatment costs, according to the CDC.
  • While fluoride is important to everyone, there are a few groups of people who especially need a healthy dose of fluoride each day. These include people who are likely to get cavities or have a dry mouth, people with gum disease, as well as people who have anything man-made in their mouth (like crowns, bridges, retainers, or braces).

Are there different types?

Yes! There are two main types of fluoride, systemic and topical. 

Systemic fluoride is the fluoride that you ingest. An example would be from drinking fluoridated tap water. Systemic fluoride is helpful for everyone, but it is most critical for children when their teeth are developing. This is because systemic fluoride can be incorporated with the enamel and make it stronger, even before the teeth erupt. Fluoridated water is safe for both children and babies to drink and will aid in giving them strong teeth for the rest of their life.

Topical fluoride is fluoride that is applied to the teeth directly after they have erupted. Examples of topical fluoride include fluoride in toothpastes, mouth rinses, and fluoride varnishes you get at the dentist. Usually products will make a big deal about having added fluoride in them, but if you want to check to see if a product has fluoride in it, the easiest way is to look under the active ingredients list, usually on the back of the packaging. 

Interestingly, the combination of topical and dietary fluoride has been found to have the greatest effect on fighting tooth decay, so if you can it is best to get both!

But what if I don’t have access to fluoridated tap water?

Some cities and towns do not add fluoride to their tap water. It is also possible that you could live in an area where you use well water. If this is the case you can still make sure that your children are getting the systemic fluoride they need so their teeth will be protected as they develop. The easiest way to do this is to have a discussion with your dentist or pediatrician. They can prescribe fluoride supplements that you can take (usually either fluoride pills or drops) that will help to make sure your enamel develops correctly.

Tell me more about the fluoride treatment that you offer?

At Virtudent we offer a fluoride varnish at the end of every dental visit. This is a topical fluoride treatment that is good for everyone. The procedure is simple and usually takes about two minutes. Your dental hygienist will use a small brush to paint on a layer of fluoride, similar to how you paint nails. The fluoride paints on clear so it is not visible to anyone after the treatment. After the treatment, your teeth might temporarily feel a little sticky, but that’s just the fluoride doing its job. You can eat and drink right away after getting a fluoride varnish treatment but you do want to avoid hot liquids (hot coffee, hot tea, or soup) for four hours. Hot foods are generally okay to eat right away. You should also wait four hours if possible before brushing the fluoride varnish off. Once you brush off the fluoride varnish your teeth will feel nice and clean again, but the protection from the fluoride will remain on your teeth and continue to release for up to three months.

What about side effects from fluoride?

Side effects from fluoride are extremely rare. The only side effect of fluoride is called fluorosis and this occurs when too much fluoride is ingested. This is something that can occur from swallowing too much toothpaste on a daily basis or drinking fluoride rinse regularly without spitting it out. It is extremely uncommon in adults, but occasionally can happen to children, so make sure they rinse out after using products containing fluoride.



Denice McClure

Author Denice McClure

Denice has been a dental hygienist for over ten years since she graduated from Middlesex Community College with a degree in Dental Hygiene in 2009! After graduation, she began working in a multi-specialty private practice office. She continued her education by obtaining her bachelor's degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Dental Hygiene as well as a dual Masters in Dental Hygiene and Public Health. In her free time, Denice can be found reading, running, swimming, traveling, or watching one of her favorite reality Bravo reality shows.

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