Dental caries (tooth decay) is caused by acid-producing bacteria that collect around the teeth and gingivae (gums) in a sticky, clear film called "plaque." Without good daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, teeth become more vulnerable to caries. Brushing twice a day and cleaning between teeth with floss or another type of interdental cleaner help remove plaque. Regular dental examinations and cleanings also are important for keeping teeth healthy.
Another key to good oral health is fluoride, a mineral that helps prevent caries and can repair teeth in the very early, microscopic stages of the disease. Fluoride can be obtained in two forms: topical and systemic.
Topical fluorides are applied directly to the tooth enamel. Some examples include fluoride toothpastes and mouthrinses, as well as fluoride treatments in the dental office.
Systemic fluorides are those that are swallowed. Examples include fluoridated water and dietary fluoride supplements. The maximum reduction in dental caries is achieved when fluoride is available both topically and systemically.
Dentists have used in-office fluoride treatments for decades to help protect the oral health of children and adults, especially patients who may be at a higher risk of developing caries. Some factors that may increase a person's risk of developing caries include the following: