What does fluoride do for my teeth?

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Demineralisation is the term used when minerals are lost from the enamel surface of teeth. This occurs when bacteria found in plaque feed on the sugars in the food we eat. As the bacteria feed, they make acid. Dental decay is caused by the action of this acid on the enamel tooth surface.

Remineralisation refers to the process of redepositing these minerals back into the tooth enamel. In this process, minerals in your saliva, such as fluoride, calcium and phosphate, are deposited back into the enamel layer.

The early signs of a cavity is a small white patch of demineralised enamel. Without enough remineralisation occurring, this will spread into the softer dentine layer of your tooth. The weakened enamel will then collapse to form a cavity, and the tooth is progressively destroyed.

Too much demineralisation without enough remineralisation to repair the tooth enamel leads to tooth decay. Applying a topical fluoride speeds up the remineralisation process.

When children drink water containing fluoride, it enters the bloodstream and becomes part of developing permanent teeth. Drinking fluoridated water does not add fluoride to teeth in someone older than 16. However, it does become part of your saliva which will strengthen your teeth from the outside.

Most benefit is obtained if a low level of fluoride is constantly maintained in your mouth throughout the day. It is important to be aware that there is no reliable evidence to suggest water fluoridation at current levels in Australia is unsafe.

Your dentist will also advise you to spit out your toothpaste after brushing rather than rinsing with water. This way fluoride stays on your teeth for longer. As there is a chance young children may swallow their toothpaste instead of spitting it out, it is recommended you use a toothpaste made specifically for young children. Swallowing excessive amounts of fluoride while teeth are developing can cause mild fluorosis, which appears as white specks on teeth.

IMPORTANT! Acidic food or drinks will also cause demineralisation. Rinse your mouth with water after consuming, then wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth.