Dental Tips |4 min read

Systemic vs. Topical Fluoride (What Parents Need to Understand)

A young girl practicing brushing teeth on a stuffed animal while parents consider Systemic vs. Topical Fluoride

Fluoride has been scientifically proven to help reduce tooth decay in both children and adults. Fluoride is derived from the element fluorine, which is one of the 20 most common elements found on earth.

So how does fluoride fight cavities?

When you eat different foods, the acids that are produced from those foods can cause the enamel on your teeth to wear down. When the naturally-occurring calcium and phosphate in your tooth enamel is stripped away by these acids, your teeth are susceptible to decay and cavities.

The saliva in your mouth disrupts these attacks on your teeth by washing away the acid and adding back calcium and phosphate. When you have fluoride in the fight, your enamel can be restored and create a powerful defense system against cavities.

The bottom line is our teeth need fluoride in order to combat tooth decay. How we obtain fluoride can happen in a few different ways, which we will explain in this blog.

What’s the difference between systemic and topical fluoride?

Systemic fluoride

Systemic fluoride is the process of adding fluoride to community water sources, also known as water fluoridation.

While fluoride is naturally found in all water sources, water fluoridation is where the water source is adjusted to ensure the recommended level of fluoride is present for optimal dental health. According to the Opens new tab to American Dental Association website American Dental Association, that is 0.7 parts fluoride per million parts water.

Some water sources, for example, well water, may not contain the recommended levels of fluoride to achieve maximum protection against decay and cavities. You can have water sources tested by your local health department.

It is also important to note some home water treatment systems, like distillation or reverse osmosis, can reduce fluoride levels. Typically, carbon or charcoal filtration systems will not remove fluoride. It is essential to find out if a reduction in fluoride is happening when you install any kind of water filtration system.

A reduction in fluoride from community water sources can mean you are missing out on the cavity-fighting properties of fluoride.

Dietary fluoride supplements are available but must be prescribed by your dentist or physician. These supplements are typically geared toward children who are at high risk for tooth decay and whose primary drinking water has a low fluoride concentration.

You can learn the history of how fluoride became part of community water by reading this blog.

Self-applied topical fluoride

Topical fluoride is another source of fluoride, which is applied directly onto the tooth through toothpaste, mouth rinse, or gels.

Fluoridated toothpaste is the most common form of self-applied topical fluoride in the world.

When you brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste, your enamel is able to directly absorb it. This increases the strength of your enamel and its ability to fight cavities caused by acid from food.

Brushing with fluoridated toothpaste will also increase the concentration of fluoride in your saliva. Saliva is another critical part of the fight against cavities.

Fluoridated mouth rinses work the same way as toothpaste, and have the same impact on improving your teeth’ health.

Self-applied gel formulations of sodium fluoride (the fluoride most commonly found in mouth rinses) are another option but generally must be prescribed by your dentist or doctor.

Professionally-applied topical fluoride

Professionally-applied topical fluoride is what you get at the dentist’s office. It can come in the form of foams, gels, varnishes, or rinses. It is more concentrated than self-applied and systemic fluoride and is very effective in fighting decay.

Both the Opens new tab to American Academy of Pediatric Dentists website American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend you get a fluoride treatment by your dentist twice a year.

Certain insurance plans may only cover fluoride once a year. However, our pediatric dentists follow the AAPD and ADA guidelines versus insurance limitations and strongly encourage you to do the same.

At Smile Surfers in Sumner and Richland, WA, our children’s dentists will spend time educating you and your child on fluoride and provide their recommendations based on your child’s needs.

Another option for clinical fluoride is silver diamine fluoride.

Silver diamine fluoride includes silver in the fluoride treatment to penetrate into the enamel’s surface and act as an anti-microbial agent. This is a non-invasive option for patients who may already have tooth decay and are looking for alternative methods to tooth restoration.

Click here to learn more about silver diamine fluoride treatments.

Fight your kid’s cavities with systemic and topical fluoride!

Have questions about systemic vs. topical fluoride? Or want to ensure you and your child are receiving the proper amount of fluoridation?

Contact our board-certified pediatric dentists at Smile Surfers. We have two convenient locations in Sumner and Richland, WA.

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