How Does Fluoride Protect Teeth?

I studied a lot of different aspects of dentistry and I still attend many continuing education classes to stay up to date with changes in the industry. One theory about how fluoride protects your teeth through remineralization has been on my mind lately.

So I wanted to tell you how you can make your teeth stronger using the very laws of chemistry!

Acid Weakens Teeth

Modern Dental Cross Sectional of Tooth

Your teeth are covered in a little protective layer called a pedicle. It is a film that fills in the pores of your tooth enamel. This pedicle makes your teeth feel smooth. It is made up of organic material from your body and the food you eat.

The theory is that, when your teeth are in contact with acid, the pedicle is destroyed and those pores are exposed. This makes your teeth far more vulnerable to bacteria, wear, and staining.

This is one reason why acidic foods are especially harmful to your teeth. Acid also leaves your teeth vulnerable if you brush right after because it will wear away bits of tooth structure called enamel tags.

Both of these processes de-mineralize your teeth, which can lead to cavities and tooth loss.

Your mouth will naturally remove the acid and rebuild the pedicle. However, if bacteria and stains got into those pores while they were exposed, they are now being protected by the pedicle!

Fluoride Protects Teeth

modern-dental-role-of-fluorideI wanted to clarify that acid doesn’t remove the protective layer all at once with something as simple as a lemonade.

Lots of foods have enough acid to weaken or partially expose your teeth. That’s no reason to avoid them all. It’s just important not to have them in excess.

When you do eat some acidic food, however, use it to your advantage!

When the pedicle is gone, you can swish with a fluoride rinse to get into all those exposed pores. This will strengthen your teeth immeasurably!

Don’t believe me? Let me explain…

A Quick Chemistry Lesson on Fluoride

The chemistry behind this is quite fascinating!

Demineralization is the physical removal of an hydroxide ion (-OH) from your tooth structure. The bond is relatively weak, so it doesn’t take too much to accomplish this.

What replaces the hydroxide ion is the negatively charged fluoride ion (F-). The bond between your teeth and the fluoride is much stronger and is not easily broken.

Cavities are formed when bacteria and acid  break down tooth structure. They break those weak hydroxide bonds and wear away your teeth. Bacteria and acid will also try to break the fluoride bonds, but it isn’t strong enough to do so.

fluoride protects teeth chemistry

Do you see how the fluoride protects teeth from being worn away?

The theory is that fluoride remineralizes your teeth and makes them more resistant to bacteria and acid, which in turn should protect you from cavities, stains, and wear.

The acid might win the initial battle, but if you use fluoride to protect your teeth, you win the entire war!

I’ll post another blog that goes over some practical ways for you to accomplish this remineralization. In the meantime, if you have questions, give my Boise dental practice a call!

~Dr. Wagner