Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Professional Fluoride Treatment


Getting a Fluoride Treatment
The majority of toothpastes today contain fluoride as the active ingredient.
The majority of toothpastes today contain fluoride as the active ingredient.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Vitamins and minerals are vitally important for our bodies and are especially important for growing children. Just as calcium works to build strong bones and teeth, fluoride can work to form a solid base of tooth enamel. Our bodies have some natural stores of the compounds that make up fluoride, such as fluorine, but when supplemented with additional doses, we have a much better chance of holding strong against plaque-causing bacteria and acids. Professional fluoride treatments are standard for most children and recommended for adults, and they're given every three, six or 12 months, depending on oral health.

People at higher risk for developing cavities or decay may be given concentrated fluoride treatments more often, and any of the following can be cause for a more aggressive dental plan:

  • poor oral hygiene and diet
  • untreated cavities or an active bacterial infection
  • health problems or diseases affecting teeth, such as eating disorders, cancer, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse
  • long periods between professional teeth cleanings and exams
  • exposed roots
  • dry mouth
  • cracks in tooth enamel
  • a lot of dental work or fillings or types of orthodontia with hard to clean areas [source: JADA].

When it's time for a professional fluoride treatment, typically, it will follow a cleaning and exam. Teeth will be painted with a foam, gel, paste or liquid, or they may be covered with trays filled with a fluoride compound. Many offices even offer a choice of flavors, from grape to mint to bubble gum. Once the teeth are coated, the dentist or hygienist will leave the solution on for just a minute to several minutes before rinsing it gently or asking you to spit out any excess without using water. After the treatment, you may have to wait 30 minutes or more before eating and drinking anything, including water, and some treatments will be felt on the teeth for hours after applied. Your teeth might feel slimy, sticky or even gunky and fuzzy depending on the application, but that residue is a good sign that the fluoride is adhering to the teeth long enough to do its job and form a barrier of protection [source: JADA].

Often, fluoride treatments are rolled into the cost of a cleaning, and even if there is an extra charge, they're worth it, not just for protecting teeth but also for gum health. Less bacteria and plaque means less tartar or calculus build-up so gums can stay tightly adhered to teeth rather than receding.

What are some other effects of fluoride treatments, and how about the controversies or potential risks we mentioned earlier? Next, we'll brush up on both.


More to Explore