Many people are concerned about fluoride added to our drinking water, but should they be? In this article, we explain how fluoride gets into water, both naturally and externally. We discuss the pros and cons of fluoride. We also provide good advice to help you determine how much fluoride is in your drinking water and whether you should use a water filtration system to control it. Read on to learn more.
The Why, How and What about Fluoride
Where Does Fluoride Come from?
Many people don't realize that fluoride is actually a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in a wide variety of foods and dental care products, as well as added to public water sources.
This naturally occurring element is found in the earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and the very crust of the earth. In fact, fluoride is the 13th most abundant element on earth. It can be found in seawater and in volcanic rocks. Additionally, tea plants contain a very high level of fluoride.
In the diet, you get fluoride from tea and from water. Additionally foods such as rice, fish and chicken contain small amounts of fluoride. Even without fluoridated water, we have fluoride in our teeth and our bones. The average adult has about 2.6 g of fluoride contained in bones and teeth.
Why Do We Have Fluoride in Our Water?
During the 1940s, scientists began to realize that people who lived in areas where the water had a naturally high level of fluoridation (one part per million) seem to have fewer cavities and stronger teeth than those who lived in areas where the amount of fluoride naturally occurring in the water was less than one part per million. These findings have been replicated numerous times since the 1940s, and it is actually safe to believe that low levels of fluoride in water can be beneficial to dental health.
Multiple scientific studies since 1940 have shown that fluoridated water and dental care products containing fluoride help strengthen teeth and prevent dental caries (cavities). That's why public water systems all across the United States have mostly fluoridated water for over 70 years. In fact about two thirds of US public water systems are fluoridated today according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Why is Water Fluoridation Controversial?
Even though a low level of fluoridation has been shown to be beneficial to dental health, there's still some controversy surrounding the practice of fluoridating public water systems. While there are measurable dental benefits to water fluoridation, there are also some risks to health and some perceived economic concerns.
For some people the perception of expense ignites the controversy. Some believe that it is too costly to fluoridate water; however, the fact is the amount of dental expense the use of fluoridated water prevents more than makes up for the small amount of expense involved in adding fluoride to public water supplies.
According to the CDC, fluoridated water is very beneficial to adults and children because people who live in areas where water is fluoridated have about 25% less tooth decay than those who live in areas where water is not fluoridated. These findings span all socioeconomic groups, so it is easy to see that water fluoridation is an economical way to benefit public dental health.
How Does Fluoride Protect Your Teeth?
The American Dental Association (ADA) calls fluoride "nature’s cavity fighter". While it is not useful to children who do not yet have teeth, when teeth are fully erupted, fluoride helps protect and rebuild tooth enamel to prevent tooth decay.
There are two ways that fluoride protects your teeth and your mouth:
- 1Fluoride supports enamel re-mineralization. This is the process by which minerals such as calcium are restored to your teeth. Re-mineralization helps keep your tooth enamel strong and protects your teeth against decay.
- 2Fluoride reduces the acidic levels in your saliva. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and subsequently produce a high acid level in your saliva. The acid is what causes tooth erosion. Fluoride buffers the effects of acids in saliva.
How Does Re-Mineralization Work?
When fluoride comes in contact with your teeth, it is absorbed by the enamel. The fluoride in the enamel helps with enamel reparation by replenishing phosphorus and calcium that have been lost. This process helps keep your teeth hard.
Even though re-mineralization does occur without fluoride, the addition of fluoride to the mix makes re-mineralization more effective. This is how fluoride assists in preventing tooth decay and even stopping the process of tooth decay.
What is the Proof that Fluoride is Safe?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) fluoride is safe and beneficial in the right amounts. While speculation abounds linking fluoride to a wide variety of health problems, these allegations have actually never been conclusively proven in a scientific manner.
What are the Bad Effects of Fluoride to Your Health?
Many believe that fluoridation of water can cause problems such as:
Although, links to these problems have never been scientifically proven, there is some anecdotal evidence to indicate that fluoride in extremely high doses could cause some of these problems and more.
High Amounts of Fluoride Can Cause Fluorosis
There are some risks connected with excessive consumption of fluoride. These are mostly associated with children consuming too much fluoride at a very early age.
In the recommended amounts, fluoride is considered safe; however, too much fluoride can cause a problem called fluorosis. When children swallow toothpaste and other fluoridated dental products or take an excessive amount of fluoride supplements, they may develop dental fluorosis.
Fluorosis is considered a temporary condition in that it usually only affects children's baby teeth. The symptoms of fluorosis include white lines or spots on the teeth. If a great deal of fluoride is ingested, teeth may become discolored with gray or brown spots. Although these spots may look like decay, they actually represent very strong, re-mineralized areas of the teeth.
Parents can prevent excessive fluoride ingestion by children by supervising tooth brushing. Additionally, it is important that you not use fluoridated dental products in children under the age of two. These products will not benefit teeth that have not emerged, and limiting exposure to fluoride is sensible.
Skeletal Fluorosis is a Rare Condition
There is also such a thing as skeletal fluorosis. This affects a person's bones if a great deal of fluoride is ingested over a long period of time. This condition can cause pain in the bones and brittleness.
It is important to understand that it is quite difficult to develop this condition. For example, a person would have to drink a whole pitcher of tea brewed with more than 100 teabags every single day for a very long period of time (many years) to develop skeletal fluorosis.
What About Neurotoxicity?
Very large amounts of fluoride delivered over a long period of time can cause damage to the central nervous system and the brain. This condition is known as neurotoxicity, and can occur in adults who are exposed to extremely high levels of fluoride.
Children should be shielded from very high levels of fluoride to prevent the development of neurotoxicity. This can be done by refraining from using fluoridated dental care products in children under the age of eight and monitoring fluoride levels in water.
It has been found that very high levels of fluoride in the water system may possibly have a negative impact on cognitive development in children. Some testing has shown that children in areas that have a great deal of fluoride in the water may also have significantly low scores on IQ tests.
If Dental Care Products Are Fluoridated Why Do We Need Fluoridated Water?
Fluoride is beneficial to your teeth both applied topically and ingested. Even though fluoride use in water is controversial, the allegations against fluoride are not really provable. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral, and when administered in the right amounts it is safe and beneficial for your teeth.
A combination of use of fluoridated dental care products and fluoridated drinking water can ensure that your teeth are protected against decay. If you live in an area where your tap water does not have fluoride, your dentist may even recommend that you take a fluoride supplement or receive fluoride treatments in the dentist‘s office.
How Can You Check Fluoride Level in Water?
The amount of fluoride you'll find in your water varies from one municipality to another and one location to another. It is determined by the naturally occurring amount of fluoride and the amount that is added. Generally speaking, community water supplies strive to deliver a total concentration of approximately 0.7 mg/L of water.
Should You Filter Fluoride Out of Your Water?
The relative safety of fluoride can be quite confusing to many people. Clearly, there are a number of potentially negative effects, while simultaneously there are scientifically proven benefits. What should you do?
Considering the fact that fluoride is a naturally occurring element, and that we get it from a wide variety of sources, should you filter fluoride from your water?
To determine whether fluoride filtration is a good idea for you, begin by finding out how much fluoride there is in your drinking water. You can do this by checking with your local public utility or making use of this service:
CDC - MWF - My Water's Fluoride Home
You might also get a rough idea of the amount of fluoride in your water by performing a simple home test. The fluoride that is added to your public water is added in the form of sodium fluoride. This is a white powder that will remain behind when water has evaporated.
To guesstimate how much fluoride is in your water on any given day, you can simply pour a bit of water into a very shallow, concave surface. For example, you might use the bottom side of a dark-colored mug.
Put a few drops of water from the tap in this shallow, concave surface and allow it to evaporate. The powdery residue left behind will give you some indication of the amount of sodium fluoride there is in your water.
Understand, however, that other minerals and solids in your water will also leave a residue. For this reason, this home test is not absolutely indicative of the amount of fluoride in your water.
It does, to some extent, indicate the amount of minerals and solids that may be present in your water. To take note of variables, you should perform this test at the same time daily using the same amount of water.
For more accurate measurement, you may wish to purchase a home monitoring device which can give you a precise measurement of the amount of fluoride in your water.
Remember that dental and skeletal fluorosis and other negative impacts only occur when water contains a level of fluoride that exceeds 2 mg/L. As long as your home water testing shows that your water contains fluoride at the recommended amounts of 0.7 ppm, you should not be overly concerned about fluoridation in your water.
How Do You Filter Fluoride From Drinking Water?
If you find that there is a particularly high concentration of fluoride in your tap water, or if you determine that you are already getting a lot of fluoride in your diet, you may decide that a fluoride water filtration system is a good idea for you.
Options in fluoride filtration range from whole house, reverse osmosis systems to under-sink systems to simple pitchers.
A pitcher or under-sink system that eliminates fluoride in the water you drink and cook with should be more than adequate to the task of protecting you against excessive fluoride exposure.
Keep in mind that, while it is smart to keep tabs on and control the amount of fluoride you and your family ingest, this is not a topic that should cause you a great deal of distress or alarm. A certain amount of fluoride in your diet is natural, necessary and beneficial. To strive to eliminate fluoride from your existence is neither practical nor advisable.