Fluoride is a chemical additive that is helpful in strengthening and protecting enamel on the surface of teeth. It is one form of reduced fluorine, which is used in applications that range from use in fluorocarbons to products that effectively clean glass or remove paint from a wooden or brick surface. When used as a halogen, fluorine develops into a monovalent ion. Fluorine is also an element in a number of drug compounds used to treat a variety of health ailments.
Unlike some forms of fluorine, dental fluoride is used to nourish and enhance the stability and strength of teeth, effectively making them less susceptible to the development of cavities or damage from chewing or similar tasks.
There are essentially three different ways to fortify the teeth with this substance. One of the most common is the introduction of fluoride into the water systems of many communities. This is usually thought to help inhibit tooth decay even if the members of the community do not see a dentist on a regular basis. While the addition of fluoride to water systems has been relatively common since the middle of the 20th century, there is some opposition to the practice. However, the process is still supported by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States and similar agencies in other countries.
A second method for introducing this substance to the teeth is to use a fluoride toothpaste as part of the daily oral care strategy. It may surprise some people to discover that not all brands of toothpaste include fluoride in their formulas. For this reason, it is recommended to check the ingredients of the toothpaste before purchase to ensure that the substance is indeed listed. Using the toothpaste after each meal is recommended to achieve the most benefit.
Dentists may also administer fluoride treatments to patients. This is usually in the form of a topical application that takes place after the teeth have been cleaned and any evidence of cavities have been removed from the teeth. For people who tend to not brush regularly with a fluoride toothpaste or live in an area where it is not added to the drinking water, these types of applications can go a long way toward maintaining strong teeth.
In areas where regular dental checkups and fluoridated water systems are not common, it is also fairly common for common table salt to be infused with fluoride. While not as effective as other methods, the introduction of the the substance into the salt does help to minimize the incidence of tooth decay and allow people to enjoy a higher standard of dental health than would be possible otherwise.