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Can Fluoride Help Adults?

Fluoride isn't just for children.

The use of fluoride can prove beneficial for both children and adults. Research has shown that fluoride applied directly to teeth is important for fighting decay.

Everyone should use fluoride toothpaste every day. But some adults are at higher risk of decay than others. They might need more intensive use of fluoride. To find out if you might be one of them, consider these questions:

1. Are you taking any medicines that cause your mouth to become dry? Do you have a disease that causes dry mouth?

Many adults take medicines that can cause dry mouth. This is also called xerostomia. Many common drugs have this side effect. They include antihistamines and medicines for allergies, anxiety and high blood pressure.

Some diseases also can cause dry mouth. The most notable are Sjögren's syndrome and diabetes.

Decreased saliva flow can increase your risk of dental decay. That's because saliva washes away bits of food that are fuel for decay-causing bacteria. These bacteria produce acids that decay teeth. Saliva helps to neutralize the acids. It also contains many minerals, including fluoride, that help keep your teeth decay-free.

If you are having dry mouth, try using a fluoride mouthwash. It can help to moisten your mouth and protect your teeth. You also can buy saliva substitutes at the pharmacy. Many people use them to replace the saliva they lack.

Sucking on sugar-free hard candy or chewing sugar-free gum to increase the flow of saliva helps. Products that contain xylitol are the most helpful. This natural sugar helps to protect teeth from decay.

2. Have your gums receded so more of your teeth show? Or has your dentist told you that you have periodontal (gum) disease?

By the time you're an adult, you may already have some form of periodontal disease. This condition can cause your gums to recede and expose more of your teeth. Receding gums give bacteria more room to roam. This puts you at risk of getting cavities below the enamel, in the roots of your teeth. For example, more than half of adults over age 75 have had root decay. If your dentist has treated you for periodontal disease, your gums may have been reshaped. This process exposes tooth roots, which also can lead to decay.

To protect your teeth's roots, your dentist can paint a fluoride varnish or gel on them. You can use a fluoride mouthwash or a prescription fluoride gel to get more fluoride.

3. Have you needed a filling in the last year?

If you have had recent tooth decay, you're at risk for more. You still have the bacteria and other conditions in your mouth that can lead to cavities. The use of fluoride should be an important part of your daily oral health care regimen if you have prior cavities.

4. Do you have crowned teeth and/or bridges?

Crowned teeth are not safe from cavities. As long as some natural tooth remains, these teeth are at risk. The edges of fillings or crowns can be hiding places for decay-causing bacteria. Fluoride can protect the tooth from decay. In certain cases, it can stop the decay process and allow the tooth to remineralize.

5. Are you wearing dental braces?

"Braces make it difficult for you to reach all areas of the teeth. They provide niches where food can become lodged. The plaque that forms as a result can lead to cavities. Your dentist can recommend a fluoride rinse or gel. Applying this daily protects the teeth against cavities.

6. Are you receiving, or have you received, radiation therapy to the head and neck?

Adults who get this type of therapy are at very high risk of tooth decay. That's because the radiation damages their salivary glands. This causes dry mouth. Saliva fights tooth decay, so people with dry mouth are at higher risk for decay.

If dry mouth results from radiation therapy, then it is important that you use generous amounts of fluoride to prevent decay. Frequently, a custom made carrier (tray) is made that you can place the fluoride gel into. This tray is then placed over your teeth for 5 minutes to ensure longer contact with the fluoride. You must then not rinse your mouth for 30 minutes. You also should visit your dentist every two to three months, or as recommended.

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Regardless of risk, all adults should use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride mouth rinses also are available over the counter. They can be used once or twice a day. Toothpaste delivers about 1,000 parts per million of fluoride. Mouth rinses provide about 250 parts per million.

If you think you are at high risk of decay, ask about receiving fluoride treatments in the dental office. During a treatment, your dentist or dental hygienist will either paint your teeth with a gel or put a gel or foam into mouth guards. You will wear the guards for one to four minutes. You also can get a varnish or gel on the roots of your teeth. You'll be asked not to eat, drink or smoke for 30 minutes after the treatment.

Dental-office fluoride treatments provide fluoride at high levels. They range from 9,000 parts per million to 20,000 parts per million, depending on the type.

You also can give yourself a fluoride treatment at home every day. These treatments are usually prescription gels. The fluoride in them ranges from 1,000 parts per million to 5,000 parts per million. Your dentist can prescribe these treatments based on your particular needs and risk of dental decay.

Talk to your dentist to determine your risk of dental decay. You can reduce this risk by:

  • Using fluoride products
  • Brushing twice a day and flossing daily
  • Getting control of frequent snacking and dietary carbohydrate intake
  • Using an antimicrobial toothpaste and mouthwash

People can keep their teeth for much longer than was previously possible. The use of fluoride and good oral hygiene practices can ensure that your teeth remain healthy as you age.

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