As children, most of us remember the highs and lows of our twice-annual trips to the dentist: the x-rays, the friendly hygienist asking how often we ate candy and if we remembered to floss every day, trinket toys as a reward for no cavities, and of course, picking out a flavor for the foamy fluoride treatment at the end. However, for many adults, the frequency of those memorable appointments diminishes with age. Jobs, family, friends, and the daily concerns and stresses of life take precedence, and often, dental health suffers. In fact, a whopping 34% of the American adult population didn’t see their dentist last year at all! Yes, daily brushing and flossing can make a huge difference, but regular dental care remains vital. One of the key reasons? Fluoride treatments.

Topical fluoride at the dental office has changed vastly over the last two decades. It’s gone from requiring the patient to bite down on a foamy tray for a long period of time (without swallowing!), to quick and convenient fluoride varnishes that are applied directly to the teeth with a small brush, left to try for a few seconds, then brushed off by the patient a few hours later. For how easy and convenient these treatments have become, the benefits far outweigh the time and effort it takes to administer them.

Fluoride, a mineral that helps prevent caries and can repair teeth in the very early, microscopic stages of the disease, can significantly lower both children and adults’ risk for developing caries. For adults, fluoride becomes especially important as many experience receding gums as they age, as well as decreased salivary flow (xerostomia). Other factors that can increase one’s risk for caries include drug abuse, existing restorations, active orthodontic treatment, poor oral hygiene and diet, tooth enamel defects and/or damage, and the undergoing of head and neck radiation therapy.

Other startling statistics that illustrate adults’ increasing need for fluoride with age show increasing root decay, which greatly increases the risk for chronic caries—a disease that fluoride effectively helps battle:

1. 6.9% of 18–24 year olds experience root decay
2. 20.8% of 35–44 year olds experience root decay
3. 38% of 55–64 year olds experience root decay
4. 56% of 75+ year olds experience root decay

Depending on the patient’s current oral health status, dentists may recommend that adults receive topical, in-office fluoride treatments every three, six, or 12 months. The clinician may also recommend additional fluoride therapy, which can include over-the-counter or prescription therapeutic products such as fluoride mouth rinses, gels, or antibacterial mouth rinses.