Fluoride: A Dental Superhero
Fluoride: A Dental Superhero
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral, commonly found in the water, soil, and food all around us. Its unique properties, which contribute to a strengthened enamel, have led to fluoride being widely incorporated into oral care.
Despite its common appearance in everyday products, very few understand where fluoride originates and how its varieties compare. Is there truly a difference between stannous fluoride vs sodium fluoride? Let’s find out!
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is an ionic compound of the element fluorine. As previously mentioned, fluoride is a mineral that naturally exists in many foods; it can even be found in dietary supplements. One of the typical ways this mineral is consumed is through fluoridated water or food which is prepared with this water. The other is through dental products, such as toothpaste or mouthwash containing fluoride.
Fluoride may also be synthesized in a lab, which is usually the case for the creation of dental care products. Because of its often volatile nature, it is much safer (and easier) to control the chemical compound within this setting.
How was fluoride discovered?
The push for fluoride first began in the early 20th century, when dentist Frederick Mckay realized that nearly 90% of the population in a Colorado town had a strange tooth stain. He went on to discover that the cause lies in the improper development of tooth enamel; today, we call this fluorosis. The town’s water supply was especially rich in fluoride deposits, and it was from this event that the investigation of tooth enamel and fluoride began.
In the 1940s, a study that lasted over a decade changed the way we think of fluoride’s effects. Researchers closely monitored the rate of tooth decay for 30,000 schoolchildren. They ultimately discovered that the cavity rate for those born after fluoride was added to water decreased by 60%. The experiment’s success led to many states turning to water fluoridation. After fluoride’s effects were proven, it was eventually incorporated into dental care.
How does fluoride work?
So, how exactly does fluoride work? When bacteria feed on sugars in our mouth leftover from food, it releases acids that damage our enamel—the protective coating on the outer surface of our teeth. That’s where fluoride fights back, as it effectively repairs the damage these acids inflict in a process known as remineralization. The continual use of fluoride strengthens the teeth and makes them more resistant over time.
The Types of Fluoride
Besides sodium fluoride — the most common type of dental fluoride — there are several popular alternatives. Stannous fluoride, for example, has an antimicrobial property that sodium fluoride lacks. However, stannous fluoride has been known to leave behind light stains after years of repeated use.
Another variety is sodium monofluorophosphate. Unlike sodium fluoride, this particular compound contains a combination of sodium, fluorine, phosphorus, and oxygen. It serves a similar purpose as sodium fluoride, enhancing the remineralization of weak spots on the enamel.
Sodium fluoride is an inorganic salt of the fluoride compound. Besides strengthening the enamel, it is also used for reducing gum or tooth sensitivity. It is found in many dental gels, varnishes, rinses, toothpaste, and other fluoride treatments. Because it has varying strengths, sodium fluoride can be bought over the counter or require a prescription. All sodium fluoride is synthetic and it is created in a lab by combining hydrofluoric acid with sodium carbonate.
Sodium fluoride is extremely effective in preventing cavities, and as such, it is one of the most common forms you’ll see in toothpaste. It sets quickly on the teeth, is safe for younger children, and reduces the overall risk of dental fluorosis.
Sodium monoflourophospate (MFP) is another form of the fluoride compound and is an engineered salt. Created by combining sodium fluoride with sodium metaphosphate, it also serves as an active ingredient in dental products. MFP is additionally used in the fluoridation of water sources to prevent tooth decay.
As with other fluorides, MFP aids in enamel protection, prevention of cavities, and inflammation. When compared to sodium fluoride, it is considered to have less of an aftertaste and is commonly used in children’s toothpaste.
MFP also differs from stannous fluoride, as the latter contains tin as a key ingredient. While MFP mainly acts to prevent tooth decay, stannous fluoride can actively fight against other dental maladies, such as gingivitis.
Stannous fluoride is a common fluoride for dental checkups, and it can be found in everything from standard toothpaste to deep-cleaning mouthwash. Besides reducing the risk for cavities, it aids in tooth sensitivity, gingivitis, and early stages of tooth decay.
When utilized in a dental setting, stannous fluoride is commonly applied as a gel or foam, which is then left on the teeth for several minutes at a time. Those more at risk for tooth decay may benefit from these treatments more regularly. Outside of the dental office, you can look for stannous fluoride at most grocery stores and pharmacies.
One of the main benefits of stannous fluoride is that, unlike sodium fluoride, it can fight gingivitis symptoms and tooth decay. If you looking for a more rounded form of protection, stannous fluoride is the right choice for you.
As stated beforehand, the key difference between stannous fluoride and MFP lies in their chemical components—tin vs. sodium and phosphorus, respectively. Both forms of fluoride build up enamel protection, defending against harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Is Fluoride Safe?
Just as fluoride has many benefits, consumers have some concerns about the safety of this versatile mineral.
When used with care, fluoride is completely safe for everyday use. The only instance when fluoride becomes potentially harmful is when it is consumed in large amounts. Toxicity varies, however, based on a person’s weight. That being said, it is very difficult to reach these high levels because the levels of fluoride are quite low in over-the-counter dental products.
There are a few side effects that come along with fluoride use, as well. The most common is called fluorosis, or fluoride-induced discoloration of the teeth. Spots can vary from lighter whites to darker shades of brown, and they usually appear during tooth development in children. While fluorosis can’t be “brushed off,” a dentist may be able to perform a bleaching treatment to address the issue. You can also choose dental bonding or veneers to fix the discoloration.
Professional vs. at-home fluoride treatments
Now that you’re aware of what fluoride can do for your teeth, the next step is to determine your supplemental treatment. You may opt for a professional treatment at your dentist, use an over- the-coutner method, or a combination of the two.
If you’re inclined to try fluoride at home, your dentist will most likely recommend fluoride toothpaste. When used at least twice daily, you can help fight against cavities with a strengthened enamel. Fluoride mouthwash is a good option, too—as long as you wait at least 30 minutes to allow the mineral to set. If you have children, be sure to monitor them; children are more likely to swallow excess fluoride.
As far as denial office visits go, the CDC recommends a thorough fluoride treatment at least every three, six, and twelve months. Note that in-office treatments include higher concentrations of fluoride to get immediate results. The treatments are relatively quick, with most being completed by a dentist in only a few minutes.
After its completion, wait at least thirty minutes before consuming any food or beverage. The process is painless and efficient. Your dentist might recommend that you wait six hours before brushing the fluoride off or, in some cases, an entire day.
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Keep your mouth in top shape with a visit to Lee Simon Dentistry! Contact us today to find out more about our fluoride treatment options.