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Topical Fluoride Treatment: Benefits, Procedure, Recommendations and Myths Busted

By Dr. Cheng Eng Wah on 22 July 2022

Girl lying down at dental clinic doing topical fluoride treatment

Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent or slow down tooth decay and cavities. Fluoride treatments refer to professional treatments done at a dental clinic. It involves the application of fluoride on one’s teeth to improve oral health.

To get the best results, it’s important to brush 3 times a day, floss daily, schedule regular dental check-ups and maintain a nutritious diet!

Read on as we share more about what topical fluoride is, its benefits, the procedure and recommendations. We also bust 3 common myths about the treatment!

Table of contents

Fluoride is a natural mineral that can be found in our teeth and bones. This can be added to or lost from one’s tooth enamel, depending on your oral care habits and diet.

In dental care, topical fluoride is applied to the tooth’s surface by dentists or oral hygienists to bring about several benefits such as:

  • Strengthening tooth enamel
  • Preventing tooth decay or cavities

Topical fluoride can come in many forms like a varnish that acts like a coat or a gel applied on trays to be placed over your teeth.

  • Strengthens teeth enamel

    Enamel, which is the outermost layer of your tooth, may wear down over time. This can be due to the acids in the food and drinks that you consume, which may lead to tooth sensitivity and decay.

    Topical fluoride treatment can help your teeth to reabsorb minerals such as calcium and phosphate to restore and strengthen tooth enamel and reduce tooth sensitivity.

  • Prevents dental cavities

    Strengthening tooth enamel makes it more resistant to the effects of acids from food and drinks.

    Fluoride also facilitates the buildup of minerals in the enamel which impedes and prevents decay growth.

The fluoride treatment includes 3 simple steps and will typically take 3 – 5 minutes.

Step 1: Teeth cleaning

Before the treatment is done, the dentist will do a dental check-up for you. If necessary, scaling and polishing will be done to clean your teeth.

Step 2: Applying topical fluoride

Next, the dentist will ensure that your teeth are dry before applying the topical fluoride.

If a varnish is used: It will be coated over your teeth with a brush.
If a gel is used: It will be applied to a tray and placed over your teeth for a few minutes.

Step 3: Post-treatment maintenance

To ensure optimal results, refrain from eating, drinking or rinsing your mouth for at least 30 minutes after the application.

Your dentist will also advise you on the next ideal time to return for future fluoride treatments.

Depending on your oral health, it’s recommended to get a professional fluoride treatment done every 3 to 12 months.

Fluoride can come from the food and drinks that you consume. According to Mayo Clinic, here are some general guidelines for daily recommended intakes of fluoride:

  • Birth to 3 years: 0.1 to 1.5 mg
  • 4 to 6 years: 1 to 2.5 mg
  • 7 to 10 years: 1.5 to 2.5 mg
  • Adolescents and adults: 1.5 to 4 mg

Additionally, here are some sources of fluoride you can include in your diet and things to avoid to prevent cavities:

Sources of fluoride to incorporate in your dietAvoid these to prevent cavities
  • Water
  • Tea and coffee
  • Fruits (e.g., grapes, apple, watermelon, banana)
  • Vegetables (e.g., spinach, potato)
  • Seafood (e.g., shrimp, crab legs)
  • Baby formula
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of professional dental care
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • Eating disorders
  • Dry mouth
  • Recommendations for Children

    Dental cavities are common amongst children — colgate revealed that more than 50% of children in Singapore have one or more decayed teeth before they enter primary school.

    Thus, dentists recommend children to start receiving fluoride treatment once their teeth start to grow. An ideal frequency would be to get it done every 3 to 6 months, depending on the child’s risk of cavities.

    Preventing Fluorosis

    Fluorosis is caused by an excessive intake of fluoride either by consuming supplements or swallowing too much toothpaste. This causes tooth discolouration and is common in kids till 8 years old when their adult teeth are growing.

    To prevent fluorosis, HealthHub recommends the following:

    • Children under 3 years should use only a rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. For children aged 3 to 6, a pea-sized amount will do.
    • Caregivers are to supervise a child’s teeth brushing to remind them to spit it out.
    • Do not use any fluoride mouth rinses (e.g., mouthwash) to prevent swallowing too much fluoride.
    Recommendations for Adults

    The fluoride recommendations for adults vary depending on their risk of developing tooth decays. For example, someone at a high risk should get fluoride treatments done every 3 to 6 months.

    It’s best to consult your dentist regarding your dental health and the ideal frequency of treatment. He/she will also be able to share more about the benefits and risks.

    Myth #1: Fluoride treatments are poisonous

    Dr. Cheng Eng Wah from i.Dental says that the dosage of fluoride given during treatment at a dental clinic is based on the Ministry of Health’s regulations that can prove its safety. In fact, the dosage is safe and effective for treatment to be done every quarter!

    Of course, there are risks associated with excessive fluoride intake. But if it’s used based on professional advice, the risk is minimal.

    Myth #2: Fluoride treatments will hurt

    According to Ms. Leong Peiqi (oral hygienist at i.Dental), there’s absolutely no pain involved in fluoride treatments! It’s one of the simplest treatments you can get in a dental clinic — non-invasive and zero pain.

    Myth #3: Fluoride treatments may stain my teeth

    The treatment itself should not and will not stain your teeth!

    Ms. Leong explains that teeth stains that are associated with fluoride are referred to as fluorosis. This can cause white spots or discolouration of the teeth. However, this only occurs during teeth formation in kids 8 years and below, meaning that fluoride treatment does not cause staining.


    In Singapore, this is the approximate cost:

    • Scaling and polishing: $50 – $180
    • Topical fluoride application: $30 – $50

    At i.Dental, our dentists provide this service for

    • Scaling and polishing: $64.80 – $162 (inclusive of GST)
    • Topical fluoride application: $37.80 – $48.60 (inclusive of GST)

    According to Healthline, a study done with children and adolescents reported 43% less likelihood to develop tooth decay after a year of fluoride treatment.

    MedicalNewsToday also quoted a review that reported fluoride treatments having a significant effect in preventing cavities for primary and permanent teeth.

    In addition to having this treatment done, individuals are encouraged to maintain good oral habits such as daily flossing, brushing teeth thrice daily and getting regular dental check-ups done. These habits can prolong the effectiveness of fluoride treatment.

    There have been concerns regarding high doses of fluoride and the safety of fluoride for children. However, it’s untrue that fluoride treatment can cause serious harm when used appropriately, though some people may have side effects such as:

    • Tooth discolouration

    Fluorosis is a condition that leads to discolouration or visible white spots on the teeth. This is common in kids till they’re 8 years of age while their teeth are still developing. Discolouration is due to consuming too much fluoride either through taking fluoride supplements or swallowing toothpaste.

    • Allergic reactions

    There’s a chance that one may have an allergic reaction to fluoride, but this is extremely rare.

    • Toxicity

    Fluoride may become toxic if applied incorrectly or taken at extremely high doses, but this is not common as well.

    After fluoride treatment, you’re advised not to eat, drink or rinse your mouth for at least 30 minutes. This gives the fluoride time to get absorbed and ensures better results.

    Fluoride can offer many benefits to your dental health. It can be obtained via the food that you eat (e.g., grapes, potatoes, etc.), water as well as toothpaste when brushing your teeth.

    Visiting the dentist for fluoride treatment also helps you get fluoride.

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