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Fluoride in Water: What are the Benefits and Dangers?

People in the United States and other countries know that fluoride is an important compound added to toothpaste to help keep our teeth healthy and prevent tooth decay.

There is even a treatment called water fluoridation where authorities add fluoride to the public water supply.

Water fluoridation is a controversial topic. Proponents argue that it protects teeth from decay, while opponents claim that it can increase cancer risk and cause other health concerns.

fluoride in water

If your drinking water has fluoride, you need to assess whether it is good or bad for your body.

This article will summarize the controversy around these arguments so you can make an informed decision for yourself about whether or not to support public fluoridation in your city.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a compound that contains the element fluorine – a naturally abundant chemical on our planet.

In addition to naturally occurring fluoride, it is present in many artificial sources, like food and beverages.

You are exposed to fluoride compounds in many ways, and it is important to study the research and decide if this is a good compound for you to receive in your water supply.

Uses of Fluoride

Fluoride compounds are used in various ways and the most common application is in the dental industry.

There are other industries which use varying levels of fluoride in their products.

Let’s go through the different ways in which fluoride is used and the many applications.

Dental Products to Prevent Tooth Decay

When it comes to overall health, dental health is considered among the top priorities which need attention on a regular basis, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) and similar groups in other countries.

You should visit your dentist regularly and use ADA approved dental products (like toothpaste) to supplement your oral health and help in preventing tooth decay.

Fluoride is very common in various dental products used throughout the world.

Some different types of dental products that contain fluoride include:

fluoride in toothpaste
  • Toothpastes – Fluoride is an important ingredient in sodium fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay and cavities and maintain clean white teeth.
  • Cements and fillings – When tooth decay and an occasional cavity are unavoidable, it is better to repair the tooth using cements and fillings with the help of your dentist. Fluoride is used as a compound to strengthen these ADA approved products.
  • Gels – The ADA says that people with sensitive teeth can use dental gel to decrease sensitivity on the surface of teeth while preventing the risk of tooth decay and cavities in tooth enamel.
  • Mouthwashes or Mouth Rinses – Fluoride is also used in mouthwashes to increase the benefits of these products to your dental health like preventing cavities as well as killing harmful bacteria.
  • Varnishes – Dental varnishing is an ADA approved treatment where the dentist uses fluoride to cover the teeth and help prevent the risk of caries or cavities while strengthening your teeth at the same time.
  • Floss – Dental floss with fluoride can supplement the fluoride in the toothpaste and avoid cavities due to oral bacteria.
  • Fluoride supplements – Supplements are ideal for those who drink water with low fluoride content and to help prevent cavities and tooth decay in children.

Other Products Containing Fluoride

  • Drugs with per fluorinated compounds
  • Food and beverages like orange juice made with fluoridated water
  • Table salt in some countries
  • Pesticides
  • Products containing PFCs (per fluorinated chemicals)

Sources of Fluoride in Water

Why is flouride in water?

Fluoride can get into water in several different ways:

  1. Community fluoridation – Community water fluoridation increases fluoride levels in community water supplies in an effort to improve dental health in the population.
  2. Improper disposal of products with fluoride – When products or waste containing fluoride are not disposed of properly, it contaminates the water system in nearby areas.
  3. Erosion of mineral deposits – Water can erode naturally occurring fluoride mineral deposits that will raise fluoride levels in tap water from various sources, including private wells.

What is Community Water Fluoridation?

Fluoridation is a water treatment process that controls the fluoride in drinking sources using sodium fluorosilicate to help prevent tooth decay as a public health service.

In 1914, scientists found that fluoride would inhibit dental caries by preventing bacteria from sticking to teeth. This discovery led many dentists and public health professionals to advocate for adding fluoride in our drinking water.

In the 1940s, fluoridation became a public health initiative- the first major success story of what has now become known as “evidence-based medicine.”

Today, most states in the United States practice fluoridation in community water systems as recommended by the CDC and other organizations.

You can get more information from your local water supplier to see if they use community water fluoridation and if you are getting fluoridated water.

If you want to check for fluoride in water by zip code, you can search at the CDC web site.

What are the Safety Standards for Fluoride in Drinking Water?

Just like any other contaminants and minerals in your drinking water, there is a safety standard for mineral fluoride for both children and adults.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline data, it is ideal to only have 1.5 ppm of fluoride concentration levels in your drinking water for general public health.

The United States or U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposes a maximum allowable level for fluoride in water supplies of 4 ppm based on their studies.

Once the fluoridation level goes beyond safe limits, you should be aware that it may be unsafe and look for information on how to lower the concentrations in your drinking water.

If the community water systems have more than 2 ppm of fluoridated water, they require monitoring according to EPA prevention policy.

Adults and children have different standards when it comes to fluoride. It is generally suggested that the very youngest members of the population, children and babies aged 0-3, only get small amounts of fluoride with adult supervision.

Health Benefits of Fluoride

fluoride at dentist

There is evidence that fluoride in drinking water can provide the following benefits to the public health of the general population:

  • Strengthens tooth enamel
  • Prevents mineral loss from teeth enamel
  • Prevents tooth decay and cavities
  • Inhibits bacterial growth in the mouth

Over the last 60 years, fluoridated drinking water use has increased dramatically- from about 25% of US public water systems to more than 75% (as of February 2010).

This increase in fluoridated water use has been linked to a decline in tooth decay rates of about 25% per decade.

However, there are many studies showing that this correlation is not actually causation; it could be the case that some other factors present over the last 60 years (such as overall better dental care) may have caused this decline in tooth decay rates and not the practice of community water fluoridation.

Health Risks of Fluoride

You need to know that there is possible health risk involved with fluoridated water with risks for children and adults if there is an imbalanced concentration of fluoride in the body, according to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various medical studies.

Fluoride Deficiency

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if your body has insufficient amounts of fluoride, this is referred to as fluoride deficiency.

Evidence from studies say that fluoride deficiency can lead to tooth decay and osteoporosis.

To avoid this, you need to get it from outside sources, such as supplements or foods.

Community water fluoridation was developed to supplement the fluoride needs of your body through your drinking water.

Excessive Fluoride in the Body

If your body takes in excessive amounts of fluoride, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several health concerns you can experience including some serious health problems.

Dental Fluorosis

There can be white lines or brown streaks on teeth which is linked to high fluoride exposure.

It is not harmful but alters the appearance of the teeth.

Skeletal Fluorosis

Skeletal fluorosis is listed as with childhood diseases by the CDC that is caused by excessive fluoride exposure in the bones during early growth periods.

This leads to irregular thickness of the bones especially in the central skeleton.

The bones are hardened while reducing elasticity that leads to easier bone fractures and frequent pain.

Thyroid Problems

Hyperparathyroidism is another health risk of high levels of fluoride in the body.

Its common result is the depletion of calcium in the bones while an increase of calcium in the blood.

This can lead to other health problems later in life.

Neurological Problems

The WHO includes fluoride in the list of neurotoxins due to its effect of reducing IQ on children who were exposed to excessive levels while developing in their mother’s womb.

Skin Problems

Some people may be allergic or sensitive to fluoride overall.

Acne is a common skin issue due to a high level of fluoride.

Aside from that, hypersensitive people can experience skin eruptions including atopic dermatitis, urticaria and eczema.

Cardiovascular Problems

You can experience various cardiovascular issues.

This includes:

  • arteriosclerosis
  • arterial calcification
  • high blood pressure
  • heart failure
  • cardiac insufficiency
  • myocardial damage

Joint and Bone Problems

Some of the possible health issues you can experience in your joints and bones are:

  • osteoarthritis
  • bone cancer (osteosarcoma)
  • temporomandibular joint disorder

Cancer risk is one of the most controversial possible problems caused by overexposure to fluoride, because it is difficult to make a strong connection with so many variables in the population.

Reproductive Problems

It can cause problems to your reproductive system.

Girls experience early puberty which is not ideal for the development of their bodies.

Parents can have lower fertility and difficulty conceiving a child.

Fluoride Poisoning

There are immediate health effects of excessive fluoride intake in the body all at once according to the information and evidence gathered through research by the U.S. National Toxicology Program and CDC.

Research information show that both parents and infants can experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive saliva excretion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle spasms or seizures

How to Test for Fluoride in Water

fluoride water test
  1. Official Laboratory Test -You can bring samples to your local laboratory that is approved by the government or EPA. This will guarantee that you can get an accurate reading on the fluoride content in your water source. You will also know the other contaminants in your supply and determine if it is safe to use and drink.
  2. Reactive Testing Kit – This at-home solution uses a reagent mixed in the water sample which will then be read by an electronic sensor, or you can compare the color to the color chart to know the fluoride reading. Reactive testing kit is not as comprehensive as the readings in the laboratory test according to studies. The color chart only gives you a range and not the exact measurement.
  3. Testing Strips – Testing strips are submerged to your water sample that is mixed with muriatic acid. You can then compare the color to a color chart. Studies show that the effectiveness of this testing device is not accurate, but it is the cheapest way of testing fluoride in your water.

How to Reduce the Risks Associated with Fluoridated Drinking Water

There are a few things you need to do to reduce the risks associated with fluorinated drinking water.

The best way to reduce your exposure is by using bottled water or by filtering your water in place of tap water.

Another thing you can do is limit your use of fluoride-based dental products when possible, especially for children younger than three years old.

You should also talk with a dentist first if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. You also should seek dental care if you have had dental fluorosis.

What is water defluoridation?

Defluoridation is the opposite or fluoridation – the removal of fluoride from drinking water.

There are several ways to remove fluoride and other unwanted chemicals from water, with the most popular option being water filtration.

fluoride for healthy teeth

Water filters

Reverse osmosis filters work by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane that can remove contaminants larger than water molecules, such as chlorine, lead, and arsenic.

This method is known for its effectiveness in controlling the fluoride level in drinking water- it will remove up to 90%.

RO filtration is a very effective way for you to reduce your intake of chemicals from drinking water since it will remove almost all other common contaminants that may be present in water sources.

However, the most common type of RO system is point-of-use and only removes fluoride in the water at one sink. Whole house RO systems are a great option to remove unwanted chemicals from all of your water.

Whole house water filters made specifically to remove fluoride without reverse osmosis are popular and economical.

How to Stop Public Water Fluoridation

In recent decades, there has been a lot of research on the dangers of drinking fluoride in water.

People argue that the government should be doing more research into whether fluoridated water supplies are a good idea before they continue approving its use around the United States.

The opposition against water fluoridation is strong due to the lack of a nationwide law that requires cities and towns to add fluoride.

However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t adding it- consequently millions of people are being exposed to levels of fluoride they may not need through their tap water.

One way you can stop public water fluoridation is by contacting the governments in your area to let them know that you are opposed to it. You can also support public officials who take a similar stance on this matter of public health and organizations like the Fluoride Action Network.

Another way is by contacting organizations and state agencies that have done studies into fluoride’s effects on health and advocating for more research.

Some of those organizations include the National Research Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control.

You can also contact organizations that support water fluoridation, such as American Dental Association to find out why they endorse it so much as a public health service.

Conclusions on Fluoride in Water

The addition of fluoride into public water is a controversial topic for some and has been debated back-and-forth as to whether it decreases tooth decay or just poses a health risk.

While there are many studies that show the benefits in reducing tooth decay, others argue against fluoridation due to its negative side effects including a possible cancer risk.

We believe that you should be able to decide for yourself if you want fluoride in drinking water…

Test your water and consider the information available and possible concerns that fluorides can cause.