When looking at the variety of dental hygiene products at the local grocery store, you might have come across many oral hygiene products which claim ‘Strengthens enamel 2X’ or ‘once it’s gone it’s gone for good’. The question is – do these products really work in making your teeth two times stronger? What is it in these products that helps the tooth enamel and how?
Tooth Structure – The Science behind It
Before we go in to the details, it is important to know what the tooth structure and enamel really consists of.
The tooth enamel is made up of calcium and phosphate compounds which are actually a modified form of hydroxyapatite. This compound is susceptible to attack by bacteria. When you have breakfast in the morning and you go about your business, so do the bacteria in your mouth. After about 20 minutes, plaque starts to form on the teeth, normally when the bacteria are most active in your mouth. Certain bacteria excrete acids as they digest food.
Acid-producing bacteria live on fermentable carbohydrates which include cooked complex carbohydrates and sugar or starch. If plaque is not brushed off the teeth, the acids produced in the plaque start to dissolve the tooth enamel, weakening it and gradually eating it. This can lead to tooth decay or cavities. If the bacteria aren’t brushed off, they could penetrate to the inner layer of the tooth, called Dentin; this may lead to irritation and severe pain.
Do Tooth Pastes Help Fight These Bacteria?
Normal toothpastes do nothing but help dislodge the plaque and bacteria off and rinse them away. Fortunately, your saliva helps neutralize the acid exposure to some extent but it isn’t strong enough to fight all the bacteria alone.
That is why dentists prefer using fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses.
What Does Fluoride Do?
Fluoride is a mineral which helps growing teeth build stronger enamel, which is teeth’s natural protective coating. Topical or systematic fluoride usage can also help prevent tooth decay and lower the acidity levels in the mouth which might cause cavities. It helps the teeth in two ways:
- Protection from demineralization – it protects teeth from acid produced by bacteria.
- Re-mineralization – Fluoride accumulates in the damaged area to strengthen teeth.
Fluoride and Teeth
When you use fluoridated dental products, the fluoride ions form a stronger Fluoroapatite composite by replacing some hydroxyl groups (OH- switches with F-). This composite is stronger and harder than the natural Hydroxyapatite compounds formed by the body.
These chemical reactions can help fluoride to modify the crystal structure of the teeth, although the protective layer formed is only about 6 nanometers thick. This thin layer of Fluoroapatite is easily worn off through abrasion and continuous exposure to bacteria. On an average, scientific studies suggest that Fluoroapatite layers are worn off within a week or two.
To overcome this you need to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth at least two times a day for positive enamel growth and decay prevention. Use of fluoridated products after every meal is highly preferred by dentists to keep the acidity level to a minimum and daily use of fluoride products help build reservoirs of calcium fluoride which fight against acids.
Does Fluoride Help In Restoring Damaged Tooth Enamel?
It depends on the amount and nature of damage to your enamel. Dentists usually classify the damage into three different levels:
Minor Enamel Damage – If the cavities are on the outside of the enamel only then the damage can be reversed through the use of fluoridated products. It is available to use topically, through mouth washes or rinses and it can be used systematically as well through fluoridated water etc. Increasing your intake of green vegetable such as Spinach can also help supply your body with fluoride naturally.
Moderate Enamel Damage – If the cavities have successfully penetrated the enamel coating of the teeth then you might consider going for a composite filling or porcelain veneers.
Severe Enamel Damage – More severe cases of enamel damage can be fixed with inlays, onlays, veneers or crowns. Extreme cases might require extracting the damaged tooth and replacing it with an implant or a fixed bridge.
Do I Need Fluoride?
Almost all health authorities and medical associations prefer the use of fluoride. They also have a specific limit defined, above which, fluoride ingestion might be dangerous. You are at a higher risk of tooth decay and might need fluoride if:
- You have a history of cavities and decay
- You have crowns, bridges, or you have undergone other procedures of restorative dentistry
- You maintain a high sugar and carbohydrate diet
- You eat a lot of snacks
- You are unable to maintain oral hygiene habits
- You don’t have access to a dentist
- You are habitual of grinding your teeth
Should I Go For Off-The-Shelf Fluoridated Products Or Should I Visit My Dentist?
Yes, off-the-shelf products do help. Products claiming to restore the enamel of your teeth actually help in the re-mineralization of teeth. This process allows calcium and minerals (Fluoride) to form compounds which adhere to the teeth excessively; more than the body is able to produce to fight the bacteria off.
Today, there are a number of off-the-shelf fluoride products you can use to enhance tooth enamel:
- Fluoridate toothpastes
- Fluoridated mouthwashes and rinses
- Fluoride supplements (tablets)
- Fluoridated water (if you live in a country where the water isn’t pre-fluoridated)
Fluoride treatments can also be taken through dentists. There are two different fluoride treatments available using:
- Neutral Sodium Fluoride (for people who have a dry mouth or crowns or bridges)
- Acidulated Phosphate Fluoride (for people with natural teeth)
The treatment includes the application of the suitable fluoride with the help of a tray or a mouth guard and it is usually applied for 3 to 5 minutes. Ingesting fluorides in a large quantity isn’t recommended and may resultantly cause toxicities.
Although you can visit your local store and pick up a product that you find suitable, it is always preferred you visit the dentist for a more thorough examination of the cavities and for professional advice.