A fluoride treatment is a dental procedure designed to strengthen tooth enamel through the application of fluoride. It's typically applied directly to the teeth in the form of a gel, varnish or foam. This naturally occurring mineral can help to strengthen tooth enamel against the acids that can damage it. Many dental patients don't need fluoride treatments, so the regular use of a fluoride treatment is considered most crucial for children and adolescents, whose teeth are still developing. People with gum diseases, dry mouth, or certain dental appliances can benefit from the extra protection fluoride treatments can provide. People who develop cavities more often than is considered normal may also benefit from a regularly administered fluoride treatment.
The typical fluoride treatment is administered by a dentist or dental hygienist in a dentist's office. A fluoride varnish may be swabbed onto the teeth, or a mouth guard may be used to apply foam or gel to the teeth. Some dentists and physicians may prescribe fluoride, in liquid or tablet form, for home use.
Children and adolescents aged six months to 16 years are often given fluoride treatments as a matter of course. Fluoride can cause health problems when consumed in high concentrations, so it's generally considered best to have each fluoride treatment administered by a dentist or other health care professional. The most common side effect of fluoride treatments is probably fluorosis, a condition in which the teeth become discolored. They may appear mottled with white spots, or become brownish in color. Professional dental bleaching can usually correct any discoloration caused by fluorosis; otherwise, the condition is not generally considered serious.
Most people don't need additional fluoride treatments after the age of 16 unless they suffer from dental health problems. Anyone who develops more than one new dental cavity per year may benefit from a regular fluoride treatment. People with gum disease, or poor dental hygiene in general, may need the added protection of a regular fluoride treatment. Conditions that cause chronically dry mouth may necessitate occasional fluoride treatments, since the lack of saliva in the mouth can undermine natural defenses against tooth decay.
Some dental appliances can increase the risk of tooth decay, and may necessitate the use of regular fluoride treatments. Braces, crowns, and bridges can increase the risk of tooth decay, since it can be difficult to remove plaque and food debris from the tooth surface beneath these appliances.