Dental Patient Education

 

Tooth Decay and Fluoride

 
 


Tooth enamel is hard and porous. It consists of many closely-packed rods made of minerals. When you eat, acid forms on the outside of the tooth and seeps into the enamel's pores. This demineralization process can produce a weak spot in the tooth's surface. If unchecked, the enamel can decay and cause a cavity.

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by slowing the breakdown of enamel and speeding up the natural remineralization process. These microscopic views of the tooth's chewing surface show how fluoride works:

Healthy tooth enamel rods before acid's onslaught  graphic
 graphic Enamel rods demineralized (broken down) by acid
Enamel rods remineralized (rebuilt) by fluoride and the minerals in the saliva.  graphic

Common sources of fluoride are fluoridated drinking water, toothpaste and mouth rinses. High-concentration fluoride gels, mouth rinses, drops and tablets are available by prescription

When a weak spot on your tooth is detected, at-home fluoride treatments may be recommended to reverse the decay process. If the weak spot is left unchecked, a cavity may form, requiring a filling. If decay is allowed to spread, it may penetrate the root and enter the pulp (nerve) chamber, causing an abscess and requiring root canal treatment.

Treatments

Progression of Tooth Decay  
   
Tooth decay often begins on biting surfaces, between the teeth, and on exposed roots.  graphic
 graphic Untreated, the cavity becomes larger.
Decay spreads beneath the enamel and can destroy the tooth structure.  graphic
 graphic Decay enters the pulp and an abscess may occur.

Use of fluoridated toothpastes and regular dental check-ups can help prevent tooth decay in the early stages.


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