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Preventing Decay with Fluoride – Fact Sheet


What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present in varying amounts in almost all foods and water supplies.

How does fluoride reduce tooth decay?

Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth stronger.

What is the best way to get fluoride?

You can get fluoride in two ways – systemically (swallowed and then absorbed into the system) and topically (applied to the surface of the tooth.) We obtain fluoride systemically when a food or liquid containing fluoride is swallowed. The fluoride is taken into the body and is absorbed by the teeth and bones. Fluoride can also be applied topically, in which case a gel, paste, rinse, or solution is placed on the teeth where fluoride acts directly on the tooth enamel.

Systemic and topical fluoride can safely be used individually or in combination to help strengthen the teeth against decay.

Who benefits from fluoride?

Everyone can benefit from fluoride’s ability to help prevent tooth decay. Many community water districts have either naturally occurring fluoride in water or they add fluoride to their systems so everyone in the community can benefit. Unfortunately, only 17% of California’s water supply is fluoridated, which means that individuals who live in areas without fluoridated water must find other ways to get enough fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.

How can I get fluoride?

Fluoride-chartYou can get fluoride from a variety of sources. If you do not live in an area where the water is fluoridated, you will need to look for other sources of fluoride. One easy way to get fluoride is to make sure you are brushing with a toothpaste containing fluoride. You can also ask your family dentist about fluoride rinses, tablets, drops, and gels. At your next dental visit be sure to ask your family dentist if you are getting enough fluoride or if there is something else you should be doing to be sure you are getting its full benefit.

Throughout California many schools conduct weekly fluoride mouth rinse programs. These programs are carried out under the supervision of an adult and can reduce the incidence of tooth decay by about 30% in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.

What to remember?

Fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay. It is important to remember to brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day to remove plaque, the harmful film of bacteria that forms on teeth. Eat a balanced diet and limit your number of snacks. See your family dentist regularly.

For more information regarding Fluoride visit ADA.org (American Dental Association)

Copyright 2001, California Dental Association, All Rights Reserved

headshot of dr eric vanek d.d.s

Dr. Eric Vanek, d.d.s

Eric has been a practicing dental surgeon for over 20 years and is the owner of Vanek Dentistry, a family dental practice in Costa Mesa, CA.

Published September 11, 2014. Updated December 15, 2023