Have you heard of or participated in the debate about fluoride? This is not a new conversation—in fact, it’s been hotly debated since the United States began adding it to the water supply in the 1940s. There’s been a lot of confusion and some contradictory information, which makes it difficult to make an informed decision. Review the information below and decide whether you should decrease or eliminate (if you can) fluoride from your life.
How is Fluoride Used?
Like chlorine and other elements and minerals, fluoride is found naturally on earth. You probably know fluoride either from the water you drink, a trip to the dentist or the tube of toothpaste in your bathroom. For more than 60 years, fluoride has been added to drinking water and oral hygiene products. There are some other industrial uses for fluoride, for example, synthesized fluoride, otherwise known as hydrofluoric acid, is used in the oil refinery process and to etch glass; this form of fluoride is a contact poison and is extremely corrosive.
Similar to chlorine, fluoride has both benefits and risks associated with use. Lengthy studies have been conducted over the years revealing that fluoridation of water sources has decreased instances of cavities by up to 70 percent in certain U.S. communities. In general, the U.S. population has also seen a distinct decline in cavities and tooth decay because of fluoridation—but don’t think this means brighter or whiter teeth—areas with high levels of fluoride have shown to discolor teeth. Interestingly, in 1901 a Colorado dentist found that his patients had few cavities, but mottled, brown teeth. It turns out this community lived on a “fluoride belt,” an area that has high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in their water.
…But at What Cost?
OK, so less cavities are good, but what’s the catch? Turns out the risks can be pretty severe and high exposure to fluoride can lead to some serious health issues. We know even moderate levels of fluoride exposure under the age of six can cause dental fluorosis (mottling and pitting of tooth enamel). Even worse, parts of the world on a fluoride belt like Sudan, Kenya, India and Afghanistan see the development of skeletal fluorosis. This bone disease is caused by overexposure to fluoride and causes extreme damage to bones and joints, and in some cases, fluoride causes calcification of ligaments. Also, while it’s not proven that fluoride can cause cancer, a 1990 study by the U.S. National Toxicology Program showed an increase in osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in male rats given fluoridated drinking water.
Who Should Be in Charge?
Many people have a big issue with fluoride for reasons beyond the risks—people are uncomfortable with the fact they can’t control whether fluoride is in their water. People feel they have the right to make a decision whether they want to limit their exposure for themselves or their family. While many medical groups are advocates of fluoride use (American Dental Association, American Medical Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to name a few), the United States recently lowered the level of fluoride allowed in water from a range of 0.7 milligrams to 1.2 milligrams per liter to a hard 0.7 milligrams per liter. Even though this change is slight, it may indicate a shift in perception concerning fluoride.
As always, we encourage you to be advocates of your own health! Do research, ask questions and make educated decisions.