What does a fluoride treatment do for your teeth?

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A fluoride treatment can be a rinse, gel, foam or varnish that is applied to your teeth to help strengthen tooth enamel.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that makes tooth enamel stronger and more resistant to cavities. Fluoride can even repair enamel that is weak and keeps cavities from forming.¹

Dentists have given in-office fluoride treatments for decades. These treatments help protect the teeth of both children and adults, especially for patients who are at a higher risk of developing dental caries or tooth decay.

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Fluoride treatments at your dentist’s office take just a few minutes. A dentist or dental hygienist applies the fluoride to the surface of your tooth enamel using a swab or brush. Some dentists use gels and rinses. They are all proven to be effective in helping reduce the risk of getting cavities.²

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a professional fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office every three, six or 12 months, depending on your oral health.³

Who needs fluoride treatments?

Both children and adults benefit from having fluoride treatments. They are especially important in children whose teeth are just growing into their mouths.

When teeth are still growing underneath the gums, children can get fluoride from foods, drinking water, and supplements. But after teeth come through the gums, a dentist or dental hygienist can apply fluoride directly to the new enamel to make it stronger and more resistant to decay.⁴

Adults and children who are at a high risk of getting cavities need fluoride treatments even more than others. You might be considered cavity-prone if you have any of these conditions:⁵

  • Poor dental hygiene habits

  • Lots of cavities

  • Eating disorder

  • Drug or alcohol habits

  • Wear braces and have poor oral hygiene

  • Poor diet

If you have any of these conditions, it is important for you to have regular fluoride treatments. Remember that cavities are still the most common chronic disease in children between six and 19.⁶

Are there different kinds of fluoride treatments?

Dentists use several kinds of fluoride treatments to help prevent cavities.⁷

  • Rinses: The patient rinses with a liquid fluoride solution for a few seconds then spits it out.

  • Gels and foams: These fill a small plastic tray, which is then placed over the teeth for a few minutes.

  • Varnishes: This type has a higher concentration of fluoride and sticks to the teeth for several hours.

You can also purchase some fluoride products at your local pharmacy. But, the fluoride products your dentist uses are more concentrated than what you can buy at the drug store and more effective.⁸ Professional fluoride products can only be used under professional supervision by trained dentists or hygienists.

Why do I need a fluoride treatment?

Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel and cause cavities. Even if you brush and floss after every meal, the sticky plaque that feeds the bacteria can still cause cavities.⁹ At very early stages of decay, fluoride can reverse the cavity and reharden the enamel.¹⁰

What can I eat after a fluoride treatment?

After you have a fluoride treatment, your dentist will instruct you not to eat or drink for about 30 minutes. This is because of the time it takes for the fluoride to completely soak into the enamel. If you eat or drink sooner than your dentist instructs, you may lose some of the benefits of the fluoride treatment. To get the greatest benefit from your fluoride treatment, follow these instructions so the gel, rinse, or varnish can seep into any microscopic spots where decay may have already started.¹¹

Most dental insurance plans cover fluoride treatments as preventive care. Be sure to check on your eligibility and find out what your plan pays to help you make an informed decision about the procedure.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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  1. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/patient\_72.ashx, 2007

  2. https://www.aapd.org/research/oral-health-policies--recommendations/fluoride-therapy/ (Last accessed March 2020)

  3. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/patient\_72.ashx, 2007

  4. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluoride (Last accessed March 2020)

  5. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/patient\_72.ashx, 2007

  6. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/fl\_caries.htm, 2019

  7. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/fluoride-topical-and-systemic-supplements, 2019

  8. https://www.aapd.org/research/oral-health-policies--recommendations/fluoride-therapy/ (Last accessed March 2020)

  9. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cavities (Last accessed March 2020)

  10. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluoride (Last accessed March 2020)

  11. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/patient\_72.ashx, 2007