Made up of countless closely packed mineral rods, tooth enamel is very hard. When you eat, acid forms on the outside of the tooth and seeps into the enamel’s rods. This demineralization process can create a weak spot in the tooth’s surface. If left unchecked, the enamel can decay and a cavity can form.
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by slowing the breakdown of enamel and speeding up the natural remineralization process. These microscopic views of a tooth’s chewing surface illustrate how fluoride works:
- Healthy tooth enamel rods exist before the onslaught of acid.
- Enamel rods are demineralized—or broken down—by the acid.
- Enamel rods are remineralized—or rebuilt—by fluoride and the minerals in saliva.
Common sources of fluoride include fluoridated water, toothpastes, and mouth rinses. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, your dentist may recommend that you take fluoride supplements in the form of high-concentration fluoride gels, mouth rinses, drops or tablets.
Progression of Tooth Decay
- Tooth decay often begins on biting surfaces, between the teeth, and on exposed enamel rods.
- Left untreated, the cavity enlarges.
- Decay spreads beneath the enamel and can destroy the tooth structure.
- Decay enters the pulp and an abscess may occur.
- The use of fluoridated toothpaste can help prevent tooth decay.