Used for decades to prevent tooth decay, fluoride is found in most toothpaste and is commonly added to drinking water. But should it be, what are some fluoride side effects? Is it truly safe for consumption, and is it the best option for the benefits that it does provide? If you've ever felt like you've had fluoride sensitivity symptoms, then you've probably wondered these things.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that adding this substance is not only safe and adds protection to your teeth. They claim that children and adults are 25 percent more protected from cavities when they use fluoride. But it's also been linked to multiple adverse health effects, inciting calls for the removal of fluoride from public water systems.
A substance derived from fluorine, fluoride prevents dental cavities and strengthens tooth enamel. Patients who are at an increased risk of tooth decay may take fluoride in supplement form. Since the 1940s, fluoride has been added to drinking water in the United States to help prevent tooth decay, particularly in the tooth-forming years. At the time, the dental community believed that fluoride's primary benefits were delivered through ingestion.
Recent research found that areas without fluoride in their water have lower rates of cavities, contradicting the main benefit attributed to the chemical. Further investigation found that excessive amounts of fluoride damage teeth. It can cause white spots or even pits in the teeth. Teeth bones don't just experience these effects; the skeletal system can be weakened by fluoride.
In addition to the harmful effects fluoride has on bones, it adversely impacts several other health systems.
Fluoride in Water
Fluoride is the only chemical added to drinking water for medicinal purposes. All other chemicals that are added to water are intended to treat the water by improving its quality and safety. Fluoride has no such effect on water.
Ninety-seven percent of western Europe has eliminated fluoride from drinking water because it mandates compulsory medication. Swallowing fluoride also has minimal benefit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that fluoride's effect is delivered through topical application and not through ingestion.
A study from the February 2014 issue of The Scientific World Journal emphasizes fluoride works topically and should no longer be used the treated water. They call for its removal from American water systems due to the adverse side effects now linked to the chemical. Furthermore, they stated that there should no longer be a daily recommended dose for fluoride since its benefits are topically induced.
Problems with Fluoride
The American Dental Association notes that some people will have an allergic reaction to the fluoride in toothpaste. Contact dermatitis is a common reaction for someone with a fluoride allergy to get from using fluoridated toothpaste. If you think you have a toothpaste allergy because your tongue has strange reactions, talk to your doctor to determine if it is a fluoride allergy.
Fluoride ingestion has been associated with adverse health effects such as IQ deficits in children, depression, weight gain and heart disease. The study from the Scientific World Journal did a review of human studies from China, India, Iran and Mexico, finding that elevated levels of fluoride in children resulted in reduced performance and impaired development of intelligence. They also found that fluoride affects normal endocrine function, which may contribute to hypothyroidism or reduced activity of the thyroid gland.
The study from the Scientific World Journal looked into fluoride toxicity, which occurs when the bodily level reaches or exceeds 1.58 to 6.6 milligrams. The toxicity level for children is even lower at .9 to 3.6 milligrams and due to standardization in water fluoridation, children are more likely to experience fluoride toxicity.
Alternatives to Fluoride
If you are concerned about the level of fluoride in your drinking water, you can install a water filter to remove fluoride and other chemicals such as arsenic and chlorine. Water filtration systems include counter-top or under-counter systems. Not all water filtration systems remove fluoride, so it's essential to look into the method you choose. One type of filter that's always reliable is a reverse osmosis filtration system, but those tend to be pricier.
If you are experiencing side effects from topical fluoride in your toothpaste, companies such as Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees or Dr. Ken's offer non-fluoridated formulas. Or you can try children's toothpaste, which is formulated with less fluoride than adult versions. Since children have a lower toxicity level, using a brand formulated to their sensitivities can allow you to get the topical benefits without the adverse reactions of ingestion.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Community Water Fluoridation"
- Harvard Public Health: "Is Fluoridated Drinking Water Safe?"
- The Scientific World Journal: "Water Fluoridation: A Critical Review of the Physiological Effects of Ingested Fluoride as a Public Health Intervention"
- EPA: "Questions and Answers on Fluoride"
- Fluoride Action Network: Health Effects: Allergy/Hypersensitivity to Fluoride
- Journal of Applied Clinical Pediatrics Vol. 20 No. 9, September 2005
- Fluoride Action Network: Health Effects: Fluoride & the Brain
- National Academies Press: Fluoride in Drinking Water
- Fluoride Action Network: Health Effects: Fluoride & the Thyroid