The use of fluoride is beneficial for both children and adults. Young children were the main focus of early efforts to add fluoride to water. Now, research shows that fluoride applied directly to teeth is just as important for fighting decay in adults. It protects permanent teeth from decay and sensitivity and allows patients to keep their permanent teeth much longer.
Some adults are at higher risk of decay than others. To find out if you might be one of them, consider these questions:
1. Are you taking medicines that cause your mouth to become dry? Do you have a disease that causes excessive dry mouth? Many common drugs like antihistamines and medicines for allergies, anxiety and high blood pressure have this side effect. Some diseases also can cause dry mouth. The most notable are Sjögren's syndrome and diabetes.
2. Have your gums receded so more of your teeth show, or have you been told you that you have periodontal (gum) disease? Receding gums give bacteria more room to roam and put you at risk of getting cavities in the roots of your teeth. To protect your teeth's roots, your hygienist can paint a fluoride varnish or gel on them.
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 provide a hiding place for decay-causing bacteria. Fluoride can protect the tooth from decay. In some cases, it stops the decay process and allows the tooth to get stronger.
5. Are you receiving, or have you received, radiation therapy to the head and neck? Radiation damages salivary glands, causing 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.