Should You Get Fluoride Treatment At The Dentist? The Truth

Should You Get Fluoride Treatment At The Dentist? The Truth

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH🔬 Evidence Based
Should You Get Fluoride Treatment At The Dentist? The Truth

Are fluoride treatment benefits big enough that you should opt-in to get a fluoride treatment at your next oral health checkup? Absolutely! Getting a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office can help you lower your risk of cavities and tooth decay in the future, remineralize weak points on your teeth, and even help with issues such as sensitivity. It’s worth it even if your dental insurance doesn’t cover it…really!

Professional fluoride treatments are especially important for kids. Since children’s teeth are less dense they are prone to tooth decay at much quicker rates than adults, fluoride treatment benefits are tremendous during childhood. 

What Is A Fluoride Treatment?

Fluoride is like calcium. It’s a mineral we find in the foods we eat and it promotes strong teeth. Our body needs a certain amount of fluoride in it to make sure our teeth grow to be as strong as they need to be. But we can also apply fluoride topically—as in slather it on already erupted teeth—to help make them more resistant to acid erosion and cavities.

A fluoride treatment is when your dentist, hygienist, or assistant uses a brush or tray to apply fluoride to your teeth, usually after a dental cleaning. You might have to sit there for a minute or two, depending on the type of fluoride treatment you’re getting. 

The benefits of fluoride treatments help safeguard your teeth between checkups, lowering your chances of issues like tooth decay or sensitivity from flaring up. 

Is Fluoride Safe?

Yes. When used as directed, fluoride is extremely safe. There are appropriate doses for fluoride depending on whether it’s added to water, applied in a gel, etc. Just like any other vitamin or mineral, fluoride treatments are dosed according to the purpose, how often it’s given, and the age of the patient.

Not only is fluoride safe for all ages, but it’s also a must-have to prevent tooth decay. Our bones need fluoride too! Floride is a naturally occurring mineral you can find it in the soil, produce, and also added to municipal water supplies because of how safe and effective it is for the general public. 

Types of Fluoride Treatment

If you’re getting a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office, the fluoride they’re using is different than what’s coming out of your bathroom faucet. The concentrated gel or varnish also has a longer contact time with your teeth, allowing minerals to seep into the tiny pores across your tooth enamel. This application process provides numerous advantages, which can significantly lower your chances of recurring cavities, new areas of decay, sensitivity, or even white spots around braces. But if you go from one dentist’s office to the next, they might use different types of products for their fluoride treatment. 

Here are the two main types of fluoride treatments that most dentists will offer: 

1. Gel or Foam Fluoride Treatment 

Floride gel on dental patient

Fluoride gels and foams have been used for decades are still used today.  


The gel or foam is squirted into a soft foam tray that you bite down on for 1-5 minutes, depending on the type of fluoride it is. Usually, your hygienist or assistant will also place a suction in your mouth while you’re sitting there to make sure you don’t swallow anything. 


Fluoride treatments with a gel or foam are usually cheaper than a varnish. You can probably expect to pay anywhere from $15-45 depending on where you live. 

2. Fluoride Varnishesfluoride varnish to teen teeth

Fluoride varnish came out several years ago and is usually the preferred application method these days. The varnish is thick and sticky, so it can cling onto your teeth for hours after the initial application time. 


After your cleaning and exam, the topical fluoride varnish is applied to your teeth with a very small brush (almost like a paint brush.) You’ll be able to feel a thin film across your teeth and when you do, you’ll know it’s working. 

After applying fluoride varnish or gel to your teeth, wait for about 30 minutes without eating or drinking. This superhero needs time to soak into your enamel and protect your teeth from harm.


Depending on where you live, your dentist might charge anywhere from $25-55, give or take, for a fluoride varnish treatment. 

Normally topical fluoride treatments are covered by dental insurance for patients up to around 14 years old. 

What Are the Benefits of a Fluoride Treatment?

Fluoride lowers the risk of cavities, helps combat tooth sensitivity, remineralizes weak teeth, and reduces the extent of dental treatment that you need in the future.

Remember the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Fluoride is the prevention. When used as directed, you help reduce your family’s chances of acids eating away at your tooth enamel and creating cavities in your smile. Will teeth be totally immune to tooth decay? No. You’ll still need to brush and floss! But applying the fluoride remineralizes those surfaces to make them more cavity-resistant. 

When you opt for a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office, you get even better perks. Since the gel or varnish is highly concentrated, fluoride treatment benefits are almost immediate. In fact, desensitizing treatments with fluoride can last up to 3-4 months at a time!

Concentrated fluoride can essentially reverse the very beginning stages of tooth decay. When you look at it that way, the preventative investment can save you both money and time in the dental chair!

Does Fluoride Stop Tooth Decay?

Yes. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay and can stop a cavity…if you apply it at just the right time. It’s mostly meant for preventing cavities before they start. But if you apply fluoride to demineralized tooth enamel you can re-mineralize those areas before a physical hole (cavity) forms in the tooth. This is why dentists and dental hygienists always recommend a fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay. Weather its sodium fluoride or stannous fluoride, fluoridated toothpaste is a must for cavity prevention in permanent teeth!

We know that adding fluoride into municipal drinking water systems (tap water) also helps lower the cavity rates in those populations. According to the CDC, fluoride reduces dental caries (cavities) by about 25% in adults and children. Keep in mind, this number could actually be a lot higher, except we drink a lot more sugary beverages these days than we did 75 years ago when we started to add fluoridated water to city and school water sources. But even then, fluoride has significantly lowered cavity rates since the 1960s and is hailed one of the best public health achievements in the 20th century.

Dental Fluoride Treatment Side Effects

If you have too much of any vitamin or mineral, it can cause serious side-effects. Some of those issues are immediate while others are more long-lasting. Typically, we only see fluoride side effects when there have been extremely high doses of fluoride through natural means (such as unfiltered well water,) excess supplementation (like giving your child fluoride supplements when they don’t need them,) or literally swallowing large amounts of toothpaste for some reason or another. 

Here’s what can happen if you have too much fluoride or other possible side effects:

1. Tooth Discoloration 

There are two different types of tooth discoloration or stain you can get on your teeth from fluoride: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic stain is internal discoloration that occurs during tooth development. We often see brown stains and pitted enamel in people who ingested excess amounts of fluoride during childhood. Whereas extrinsic stain is a superficial stain that can be polished off of the tooth. Some multivitamins can cause superficial stains, as do certain types of fluoride mouth rinses.

2. Allergic Reaction 

Allergic reactions to fluoride are extremely, extremely rare. So rare that they’ve only been mentioned in passing in a few health journals. You might actually be at a bigger risk of having an allergic reaction to other ingredients in the fluoride gel or polishing paste, such as gluten or flavorings. Even people with egg allergies sometimes have to worry about allergic reactions in the dental office, because of the way things like laughing gas works. Always communicate your health history and any random allergies you have with your dentist, just to be on the safe side. 

Is Fluoride Toxic? 

Although fluoride isn’t toxic in appropriate doses, it can be toxic if you’re swallowing large amounts of it. Excessive fluoride exposure during tooth development in children can lead to a condition known as dental fluorosis. The same as if you swallowed dozens of multivitamins. I’m going to go into the TMI zone here for just a minute. If you’ve ingested toxic amounts of fluoride you would either have to call poison control, go to the emergency room to have your stomach pumped, or probably start vomiting. You’re probably going to deal with gastrointestinal issues rather than worrying about dying, but too much of anything can be lethal, even when it comes to water. 

Is Fluoride Treatment Safe For Kids?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes the use of fluoride as safe and effective in preventing tooth decay for both children and adults.

Fluoride treatments for kids are 100% safe. The only time when fluoride, or any other mineral for that matter, is unsafe, is if you’re ingesting large quantities of it. You’re going to either make yourself sick or create a situation of hyperfluorosis. Hyperfluorosis creates brown, pitted enamel during tooth development. But that doesn’t happen when a professional is applying the fluoride to your child’s teeth during a dental checkup. They’ll use a special applicator system and suction to prevent your child from accidentally ingesting too much of anything. 

When you’re questioning whether fluoride treatment benefits outweigh the risks, it’s definitely the best thing to go ahead and get the fluoride treatment for your child.

Professional Fluoride Treatment

Fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office is recommended after your dental exam and cleaning. Although most treatments are given to children, adults can request fluoride too. Your dentist might even prescribe a gel to use at home if you’re at a high risk of tooth decay or sensitivity. The only time you want to avoid fluoride treatment is if you’re about to have dental work done, are getting braces in the next couple of weeks, or it’s a toddler who won’t know to not swallow it (but even then, your dentist can switch from a gel to a varnish to prevent accidental swallowing.) If you’re considering getting a fluoride treatment, it’s best to have it done right after your dental cleaning so that the mineral can fully penetrate your tooth enamel.

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Last updated onDecember 14, 2023Here is our process

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