Fluoride is leading the fight against tooth decay. By strengthening your enamel—the outer layer of your teeth—fluoride can help to prevent cavities, reduce the risk of gum disease, and overall lead to better dental health.
But can fluoride whiten your teeth? Flossy covers the details in this guide.
No. Fluoride Does Not Whiten Teeth
Only bleaching whitens teeth. So fluoride does not directly whiten your teeth, but it contributes to teeth whitening in other ways.
How Does Fluoride Contribute to Teeth Whitening?
We know that regular use of fluoride strengthens your tooth enamel, which is the hard outermost layer that is white in color. The thicker and stronger your enamel, the whiter your teeth appear.
On the other hand, if your enamel wears away, then it exposes the middle layer of your teeth—the dentin—which is a slightly yellowish tint.
For this reason, fluoride is an excellent way to prevent teeth discoloration. However, if you want to whiten your teeth, then you should consider booking a professional whitening treatment.
Your dentist may use fluoride in combination with your bleaching treatment to reduce any possible sensitivity.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral we get when we combine fluorine with another element. Fluoride is a form of fluorine—a naturally occurring element and the 13th most abundant.
Fluorine is extremely reactive and does not exist in its natural state. For this reason, we must combine fluoride with other elements.
Where Is Fluoride Found?
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral found in much of the earth’s soil and rock formations. Additionally, there’s a trace amount of fluoride in our oceans—about one part per million.
For this reason, we come into contact with fluoride from many sources. This can be from your public water supply, which may have fluoride added to it.
This can also be from certain dental treatments, such as the application of fluoride gel. Last, there is some naturally-occurring fluoride in many of the foods we eat, such as grapes.
Is Fluoride Good for Your Teeth?
While fluoride is incredibly beneficial for the teeth, there are some things to keep in mind: Getting too much of this mineral actually does the opposite of what you want for your tooth color.
It’s possible for too much fluoride to lead to white spots on the teeth, which happens if too much fluoride is ingested during childhood—which is referred to as dental fluorosis.
While it’s unlikely that regular brushing and rinsing with fluoride leads to this, it’s still a good idea to bring up any possible concerns with your doctor before using fluoride.
How Does Fluoride Work?
Essentially, fluoride works by binding to the minerals in your teeth.
The outermost layer of your teeth—the enamel—is made up of a mineral called hydroxyapatite, which contains positive calcium ions and negative phosphate ions (lots of complex terminologies—we know!).
During tooth decay, acids come in contact with these ions and strip them away, gradually dissolving the outer layer of your tooth. This is where fluoride protects teeth against this type of erosion.
How Fluoride Helps To Protect Your Teeth From Erosion
Fluoride does this by sticking to the calcium ions located on the surface of the tooth, reducing them at the rate at which they dissolve.
This reaction means that fluoride affects the tooth's outer layers, stripping it away when we chew or get abrasions to our teeth. For this reason, it’s important to use fluoride regularly.
Where To Get Fluoride Treatments
Aside from using fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash, it’s also important to visit your dentist for regular fluoride treatments.
Doing this will ensure that your tooth enamel remains strong, which can help to reduce your risk of cavities, gum disease, and tooth sensitivity.
In addition, stronger enamel means your chances of tooth yellowing decrease.
Why Do Teeth Turn Yellow?
There are many types of discoloration, roughly grouped into two categories: Extrinsic and intrinsic. Here are their main differences:
Extrinsic stains affect the outer surface of your teeth—a layer called enamel. Although it’s fairly easy to stain the enamel, these stains are just as easy to remove.
There are several reasons why you experience discoloration in this layer of your teeth:
- Smoking: This is one of the most easily preventable causes of discoloration. It happens thanks to the tar and nicotine that are present in most tobacco products, which leave a yellowish stain on the surface of the teeth.
- Staining Foods: Many foods—such as tomatoes, beets, and blueberries —and beverages—such as red wine, coffee, and tea—contain pigments that can stick to your tooth enamel and leave a stain.
- Acidic Foods: Although acidic foods don’t directly cause staining, they do so in another way. Acids erode your tooth enamel, making it easier for pigmented food and beverage to leave a stain on your teeth.
- Oral Hygiene: Last, following the wrong oral hygiene routine potentially leads to staining. Irregular brushing visits to your dentist for a regular cleaning lead to plaque build-up, which contributes to discoloration.
Intrinsic stains happen to the inner layer of the tooth—called dentin, which is difficult to reach with traditional whitening procedures. Intrinsic stains are harder to remove.
There are several causes of intrinsic staining in teeth:
- Aging: As you get older, the enamel of your teeth wears away, exposing the inner layer of your teeth. The inner layer—called dentin—has a slightly yellowish tint. Of course, regular fluoride treatments can help prevent this.
- Illness: Certain diseases prevent the normal development of your teeth during childhood, which thins your enamel. Because enamel is white, its thinning leads teeth to appear more yellow. In addition, chemotherapy has been shown to lead to discoloration in the teeth.
- Medications: Certain medications lead to intrinsic staining of the teeth. For instance, antibiotics—such as tetracycline and doxycycline—have been linked to teeth discoloration in developing children. Certain mouth rinses containing ingredients like chlorhexidine are also cause intrinsic staining.
- Genetics: Some of us are just born with naturally whiter teeth. This is because your genetics determines your enamel’s thickness. And as we know, the thicker your enamel, the whiter your teeth appear.
Note: Although the natural color of our teeth is different—ranging from pearly white to a slightly yellowish tint—some people may experience discoloration that is slightly more than what is normal.
What Is the Best Way to Whiten Teeth?
The best way to whiten teeth is to see your dentist for a professional whitening treatment.
How Does Your Dentist Whiten Your Teeth?
Ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide are applied to the surface of your teeth. Once this is done, the pigment molecules making your teeth look discolored begin to break apart and reveal the white enamel underneath.
This is also be accomplished with at-home whitening treatments.
How To Prevent Tooth Discoloration
The most easily preventable cause of teeth discoloration is poor oral hygiene. This is thanks to plaque—a layer of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums, leading your teeth to look more yellow.
Practicing good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing twice per day is the best way to help prevent tooth discoloration. In addition, it’s important to visit your dentist for regular cleanings.
You should avoid smoking (for dental and health reasons) and avoid consuming foods and beverages that stain your teeth. If you must do the latter, it’s important to rinse or brush your teeth immediately afterward.
Did you know? Drinking through a straw minimizes the contact your teeth get with staining agents.
While fluoride won’t whiten teeth on its own, it’s an effective way to strengthen your tooth enamel and prevent discoloration of the teeth.
If you want to improve your dental health with a fluoride treatment, discover Flossy’s network of dental professionals who can help you achieve your goals.