Used for decades to prevent tooth decay, fluoride is found in most toothpaste and is commonly added to drinking water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics for 2006 report that 61.5 percent of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water. Fluoride ingestion, however, has been linked to multiple adverse health effects, inciting groups such as the Fluoride Action Network to call 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, however, indicates that fluoride ingestion has minimal benefit and has been linked to many adverse health effects such as skin rashes, mouth lesions, weight gain and decreased IQ in children.
Fluoride in Water
The Fluoride Action Network notes that 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 on the grounds that it mandates compulsory medication. Swallowing fluoride also has minimal benefit. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention note that fluoride's effect is delivered through topical application and not through ingestion.
As reported by the "Journal of Dental Medicine," 1 percent of people participating in a government-funded clinical trial on fluoride experienced allergic reactions or hypersensitivity to fluoride. Hypersensitive reactions can occur with both topical and ingested fluoride. Symptoms of fluoride allergy include skin rashes, mouth lesions, headache, weakness, joint pain, gastric distress, fatigue and vision problems.
Fluoride ingestion has been associated with adverse health effects such as IQ deficits in children, depression, weight gain and heart disease. The "Journal of Applied Clinical Pediatrics" reports that "high fluoride intake has a damaging effect on intellectual ability," and human studies from China, India, Iran and Mexico found that elevated levels of fluoride in children resulted in reduced performance and impaired development of intelligence. The U.S. National Research Council has also found that fluoride affects normal endocrine function, which may contribute to hypothyroidism, or reduced activity of the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism can lead to fatigue, depression, weight gain, hair loss, muscle pains and heart disease.
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. 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 nonfluoridated formulas.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Water Fluoridation Statistics for 2006
- Drugs: Fluoride
- Fluoride Action Network: Health Effects: Fluoride & Tooth Decay: Topical Vs. Systemic Effects
- Fluoride Action Network: 10 Facts About Fluoride
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Fluoridation of Drinking Water to Prevent Dental Caries