What is fluoride (flor-ahyd)?

Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present in different amounts in almost all foods and water. Fluoride is also used in many dental products such as toothpaste and mouth rinses.

How does fluoride help stop cavities?

Fluoride works in two ways: topically and systemically. Topical fluorides (meaning fluoride put right on the teeth) strengthen teeth that are in the mouth. As fluoride washes over the tooth surface, it is added into the outer surface of the tooth, making it stronger which protects teeth from cavities. Topical fluoride also helps protect and make the root surfaces less sensitive by adding fluoride into the naturally occurring “softer” root surface. Systemic fluorides are those that are swallowed via food and water and are used by the body when the teeth are forming. If fluoride is taken regularly during the time when teeth are forming (6 months to 6 years-old), it will be added into the enamel layer (outer layer of the tooth) as they develop, creating a stronger, more cavity resistant tooth. Systemic fluorides also protect teeth topically; fluoride is in saliva, which is always washing over the teeth. Fluoride can help the tooth repair itself where it may have been damaged by acids early in the cavity process.

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