There are two questions we are routinely asked regarding fluoride.  The first is, “Is fluoride really that important for children’s teeth?”  The second is,”Do adults need fluoride as well?”
First, let’s start with what fluoride is and what the oral benefits are.  Fluoride is a naturally occurring ion that in specific compound helps to protect teeth from decay and cavities.  When bacteria in the mouth combine with carbohydrates, sugars, and starches acid is produced that erodes the enamel on the teeth (this process is called demineralization).  Compounds containing fluoride act like a shield against this demineralization process.  In fact, if caught early enough, these areas of demineralization can be repaired by fluoride through an enamel strengthening process called remineralization.  If the enamel is not protected or remineralized, then the acid attacks and weakened enamel grows and softens leading to tooth decay, or cavities.
Fluoride may be ingested or applied topically.  Fluoride ingestion occurs through eating foods containing fluoride, such as meat, fish, and eggs.  Many communities add fluoride to the drinking water, so ingestion occurs in this way as well.  The fluoride is then absorbed into the bloodstream and deposited into the developing body structures, including teeth.  Fluoride ingestion is especially important for younger individuals that have teeth developing.  Fluoride can also be applied directly to the teeth in a dental office or at home by using fluoride containing toothpaste and rinses.  At Danville Family Dentistry, we use a topical application called fluoride varnish that is painted on the teeth; it is not a foam or rinse.  This system has replaced the uncomfortable trays or swooshing of fluoride rinses to make it more kid friendly.
So this leads us back to the original questions.  Children need fluoride to help protect their developing teeth.  The studies showing the relationship between the application of fluoride and the dramatic decrease in childhood tooth decay are astounding.  In fact, the use of flouride as an anti-cavity product is considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.  Without the use of fluoride, children have a much greater chance of getting cavities and needing dental treatment.  Adults need fluoride so they can continue to protect their permanent teeth from cavities.  Adults really need topical applications more than the ingestion since their teeth have already developed.  Adults with higher risk of tooth decay are usually advised to increase topical application in the dental office as well as at home.  Patients that fall into this category may include those with a lot of past dental work, repeated or multiple cavities in a short amount of time, people on certain medications, those that have dry mouth, or patients in braces.
If you have any additional concerns or questions about fluoride please do not hesitate to contact us.