Have you ever wondered why your dentist recommended a fluoride treatment around the same time you started using a whitening toothpaste or other bleaching agent? It's not that fluoride will whiten teeth; it's that the naturally occurring mineral protects your smile when agents like hydrogen peroxide or other whitening agents are applied.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in water, soil, and some foods. It is known for its ability to strengthen tooth enamel, making teeth more resistant to decay and cavities.
Fluoride can be applied topically to teeth in the form of toothpaste, mouthwash, and professionally applied gels, varnishes, or foams. Fluoride can also be ingested through water and food. When fluoride is present in the mouth, it can help to remineralize or repair tooth enamel that has been damaged by acid.
Fluoride is considered to be one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay, and it is often added to public water supplies to improve oral health for entire communities.
Why Do Dentists Recommend Fluoride Treatments and Toothpaste?
As a natural mineral found in bone and tooth structures, fluoride works to remineralize tooth enamel by making teeth more resistant to acid attacks.
Tooth enamel is the hard, protective layer on the surface of the teeth, and it can be damaged by the acid that is produced by bacteria in the mouth. When fluoride is applied to teeth, it can help to repair the tooth enamel by binding to the tooth surface, making it harder for acid to erode that surface.
Fluoride also encourages the remineralization of tooth enamel by providing the necessary minerals for the tooth to repair itself before a physical cavity or hole forms in the tooth. This helps to prevent early-stage tooth decay by strengthening the tooth and making it more resistant to damage.
When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste each day or use fluoride mouthwash, you are getting an extra boost of fluoride, which can help to protect your teeth from decay. Additionally, drinking water that is fluoridated can also help to provide a constant source of fluoride during early tooth development.
Will Fluoride Make Teeth White?
While fluoride can help strengthen teeth and protect against cavities, it is not a whitening agent and will not make teeth white. To whiten teeth, it is best to use products specifically formulated for that purpose or consult with a dental professional. It is also important to maintain good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing regularly, to keep teeth healthy and looking their best.
That being said, too much fluoride can cause white or brown stains on teeth. Most of the time, getting too much fluoride is a concern during early tooth development, when the enamel is calcifying and forming each tooth's respective shape. But the white or brown spots on teeth are caused during tooth formation, as opposed to a topical fluoride treatment later on in life.
As a side note, when fluoride treatment helps reverse early-stage tooth decay, there may be some residual white spots on the tooth where demineralization occurs. That's because early-stage tooth decay usually looks like the tooth is getting whiter rather than forming a brown spot in that space.
What Does Dental Fluorosis Look Like?
Enamel fluorosis is a condition that occurs when there is too much fluoride intake during the development of teeth, typically during early childhood. When this happens, the fluoride can cause changes in the way the enamel forms, resulting in visible discoloration and permanent damage to the teeth.
The most common symptoms of enamel fluorosis are white or brown spots on the teeth, as well as pitting or roughness of the enamel surface. In severe cases, the teeth may be severely discolored or even deformed.
The condition is typically caused by ingesting excessive amounts of fluoride, which can come from various sources such as drinking water with high fluoride levels (such as well water where soil levels are saturated,) taking excessive fluoride supplements, or repeatedly ingesting toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride.
It is important to pay attention to fluoride intake, especially in children, to avoid enamel fluorosis. The good news is that using products like fluoride gel, fluoride toothpaste, and fluoride varnish as directed is extremely safe!
Why is Fluoride Used With Teeth Whitening?
Dentists often recommend fluoride treatments or fluoride gels alongside teeth whitening because sodium fluoride can help prevent tooth sensitivity during the whitening process.
Teeth whitening products, such as bleaching gels or strips, can easily cause tooth sensitivity, especially if they are used too frequently, for an extended period of time, or if the bleaching agent is extremely strong.
The sensitivity is caused by the whitening gel penetrating the tooth's enamel and reaching the sensitive nerve endings inside the microscopic pores of the enamel's surface.
Fluoride treatments can help to reduce or prevent tooth sensitivity by strengthening the enamel and making it more resistant to the effects of the bleaching gel. However, the fluoride treatment itself will not whiten your teeth.
Fluoride also helps to remineralize tooth surfaces, which can help to repair any drying or demineralization that happens during the whitening process.
By providing a fluoride treatment before and after teeth whitening, dentists can help to reduce the risk of tooth sensitivity and other complications and also help to preserve the health and beauty of the teeth for a longer period of time.
How to Use Fluoride When Whitening Teeth
For best results and reduced tooth sensitivity, use fluoride toothpaste twice a day, every day. If you have a prescription fluoride toothpaste, only use it as directed (excess fluoride is unnecessary.)
You can also use a sensitivity toothpaste, which is fluoride toothpaste plus added ingredients (like a mineral called hydroxyapatite) to block off nerve endings in your tooth enamel. Use these products for at least two weeks leading up to your teeth whitening treatment, during the whitening process, and at least a couple of weeks afterward. Dental professionals can also apply a concentrated fluoride varnish before or after your whitening session to prevent symptoms.
What are the Best Sources of Fluoride?
The best way to add fluoride to your oral health routine includes professional fluoride treatments, using fluoride toothpaste, rinsing with fluoride mouthwash, and drinking fluoridated water.
Professional fluoride treatments are applied by a dentist or dental hygienist and can include gels, varnishes, and foams that are applied directly to the teeth. These treatments are typically more concentrated than over-the-counter products and can provide a higher level of fluoride protection for people who have a high risk of tooth decay.
Fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash are easy to use and recommended by dentists as a way to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities on a daily basis.
Fluoridated water is also a good source of fluoride, especially during early tooth development in young children. Many cities and towns add fluoride to their water supplies to help protect the teeth of their residents. It's important to check with your local water company to find out if the water in your area is fluoridated.
Do I need to use fluoride when whitening my teeth?
If you have sensitive teeth, your dental office may want to apply fluoride, prescribe a fluoride gel, or have you use fluoride toothpaste any time that whitening agents are used.
Does whitening toothpaste contain fluoride?
Some whitening toothpaste do contain fluoride. Others do not. Because fluoride helps counteract tooth sensitivity during the bleaching process, it can be helpful if you're getting at least some type of fluoride on a regular basis.
Will fluoride make my teeth look whiter?
No. But your dentist will probably want you to use fluoridated toothpaste to ensure good oral health as you whiten your teeth with professional or over-the-counter products.
Does fluoride stain teeth?
If high levels of fluoride are ingested during tooth development, it can cause permanent internal tooth stains in your enamel. The staining can be brown or white. It can also cause misshaped, pitted, or deformed enamel.
Will fluoride remove surface stains?
No. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in the environment that, like calcium, helps build strong bones and teeth. It does help with tooth sensitivity, but it will not remove surface stains or make teeth whiter as a bleaching kit does.
Know How to Pair Fluoride with Teeth Whitening Products
Is fluoride good for fighting tooth decay and preventing sensitive teeth? Absolutely. Especially if you're planning on bleaching your teeth anytime soon.
Fluoride can be found in dental treatments like foams, gels, and varnish, as well as in municipal fluoridated water sources. It's an essential part of your dental health needs. Without fluoride, it's almost impossible to prevent cavities.
Even with good oral hygiene, acidic foods, and natural bacteria can cause enamel erosion. Adding it into your home care routine as you whiten your teeth will make a significant difference in your overall comfort, even though it doesn't necessarily make your teeth any whiter!