Did you know dental cavities are the most common disease in children and adults worldwide? Fluoride is one of the best and safest ways we can prevent cavities for children and adults alike. 

Here’s how fluoride works. Your mouth contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. This produces acid that can wear away the hard, outer shell of your tooth (enamel). This can lead to cavities. Fluoride protects teeth by making the your teeth stronger and more resistant to acid. It not only reduces the risk of cavities, it can even help reverse early signs of decay. Due to its success in preventing cavities, fluoride in water was named a top public health achievement in the 20th century.

So how does fluoride fight cavities? To begin, let’s look at what fluoride is working so hard to protect – your teeth.

Tooth enamel is the outer covering of your teeth. It’s stronger than bone and made from calcium and phosphate. Your spit, or saliva, is also loaded with calcium and phosphate and bathes the teeth to keep them strong.

When you eat things like candy, crackers or noodles, cavity-causing bacteria starts feasting on the carbohydrates in these foods. This produces acids that attack your enamel. It causes calcium and phosphate to be stripped from the tooth enamel, leaving you more vulnerable to decay and cavities.

However, saliva disrupts the attack as it coats your teeth and adds back calcium and phosphate to  replace what had been stripped away.

Now, here’s where fluoride is the superhero. When your saliva has fluoride in it from sources like toothpaste or water, your teeth are able to take it in. Once in your enamel, fluoride teams up with calcium and phosphate there to create the most powerful defense system your teeth can have to prevent cavities from forming: fluoroapatite. It’s much stronger, more resistant to decay and fights to protect your teeth.

How Can I Get Fluoride On My Side?

There are many ways to get fluoride fighting for you. Fluoride is found in community water systems. (Find out if your water supply contains fluoride.) It is also found in some mouth rinses, and your dentist can apply it to your teeth in the dental office.

On the home front, be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that has the ADA Seal. This means that it has been tested and shown to contain the right amount of fluoride to protect your teeth.  And be sure to drink water with fluoride. Be aware that not all bottled waters, for example, contain fluoride.

Want to learn more? Get your complete guide to fluoride, water fluoridation and more at ADA.org/fluoride.

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Schedule your child’s first dental visit no later than his or her first birthday. If your baby has teeth, he or she can get cavities! This early start is important for you and your child to begin good habits and develop a positive relationship with your dentist.