The outer layer of the crown of a tooth, called the enamel, is made of closely packed mineral crystals. Everyday these minerals are lost and gained from inside the enamel crystals. This process is called demineralization and remineralization.
Fluoride helps teeth in two ways. It helps in developing permanent teeth among children, and also works directly on the mouths of adults and children, disrupting the production of acids by bacteria. Strong enamel resulting from adequate fluoride intake resists acids that are erosive and cause cavities.
Topical fluoride products are applied directly to the teeth and include toothpaste, mouth rinses and professionally applied fluoride treatments. These treatments are in the mouth for a very short time. However, the fluoride level remains high for several hours afterwards. Fluorides found in food and water products also work the same way. The water rinses the teeth, and some of the fluoride remains in the saliva.
Some treatments are given in a dental office in the form of a gel, foam or varnish. The fluorides used in this treatment are at a much higher strength than in mouthwashes or toothpastes.
Supplements are also available by prescription. They are prescribed to children living in areas where the water supply does not contain enough fluoride. These supplements should be used by children between 6 months to 16 years of age. Fluoride mouth rinses are mostly recommended for children over the age of 6. If children live in an area with a high risk of decay, they should use additional fluoride. Dentists prescribe fluoride rinses and gels if the child needs a higher level of fluoride.
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