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Risks of Fluoride in Drinking Water

By Kim Robson:

Fluoride is found in many oral hygiene products. A mineral compound, it is used in topical and systemic fluoride therapy to prevent tooth decay. While trace amounts of naturally occurring calcium fluoride can be found in some water supplies (about 0.25 to 1 mg/L), many water supplies in the U.S. are artificially fluoridated with anywhere from 0.7 up to 1.2 mg/L. Adding fluoride to drinking water has been a health standard since the 1950s. Originally, sodium fluoride was used to fluoridate drinking water; nowadays hexafluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) and its salt sodium hexafluorosilicate (Na2SiF6) are the additives of choice, especially in the United States. 

The fluoridation of water is known to prevent tooth decay, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers it “one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20thcentury.” In some countries where large, centralized water delivery systems are uncommon, fluoride is added to table salt. While government reports warn that fluoridated drinking water can dramatically reduce cavities and tooth decay by up to 90%, there is a very fine line regarding the amount for dental and thyroid health benefits, as too much of it can cause unintended health problems. 

Using fluoridated toothpaste isn’t harmful. Nor is it harmful to have a dentist apply a gel fluoride treatment when getting a checkup. This helps strengthen and rebuild the protective layer of enamel on teeth. Uses like that are strictly topical; the fluoride isn’t being ingested. Even if you do ingest a little toothpaste, the fluoride levels in those products don’t pose a threat.

Since the late 1990s, however, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required toothpastes to bear a warning label about fluoride use because fluoride is considered a potentially toxic drug, and ingesting enough of it could be harmful. Many countries, including the U.S., have been adding fluoride to water for years. However, several European countries have banned fluoride from their drinking water. Why?

Tooth Streaking and Pitting: According to a CDC study, two out of five adolescents have tooth streaking or spottiness due to excessive fluoride levels. In extreme cases, teeth can even be pitted by the mineral. Young teens seem to be the most at risk, not to mention that they’re already getting fluoride in toothpaste, mouthwashes, clinical treatments and sometimes supplements.

Hypothyroidism: Studies show that fluoride affects the thyroid gland, and can lead to thyroid inflammation and thyroid autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s. In India, researchers found that children in areas with high fluoride levels had a significant decrease in TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). In another study, people with non-fluoridated water were found to be less likely to develop hypothyroidism. And while taking iodine seems to protect the thyroid from fluoride, many people with thyroid disease have decreased levels of iodine and are unable to tolerate supplemental iodine. For those with thyroid issues, fluoride is particularly dangerous.

Skeletal Fluorosis: Research studies have linked fluoride consumption with weakened bones, particularly the hips. Skeletal fluorosis occurs when a child gets too much fluoride as the teeth are developing. A study in China on children with fluorosis also found the children had lower overall IQ scores. Bone fractures were less frequent when fluoride levels were at about 1 mg/L, but were more frequent on the lowest and highest edges of the range. The trick seems to be getting just the right level.

Reduced IQ: Fluoride is a confirmed neurotoxin. In a 2017 study, fluoride exposure in utero was linked to poorer cognitive performance later in life. A 2012 Harvard review of 27 studies found that 26 of them had found a relationship between elevated fluoride and reduced IQ. One U.S. study on animals found that fluoride had accumulated in specific areas of the brain, which then affected the animals’ ability to learn.

Early Sexual Development: One study found that high levels of fluoride can accumulate in the pineal gland (which secretes hormones). Another 1997 study found faster sexual development in female gerbils exposed to fluoride.

Cancer: Some researchers suspect a connection between fluoride and cancer, but the research is inconclusive at this time.

Male Infertility: Some researchers suspect a connection between fluoride and male infertility associated with topical fluoride used in animal studies, but the research is inconclusive at this time.

Recently, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) withdrew its long-held support for fluoridated water, leading the FDA to change its recommendations on water fluoridation. The new standard shall not exceed 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water. 

If you are brushing and flossing regularly, as you ought to be, and if your dentist is using a topical fluoride treatment every once in a while, then you shouldn’t need fluoride in your water. Research shows that good hormone balance and a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats can help your body naturally protect its oral health. If your dentist has recommended a regular fluoride treatment at home, try this DIY recipe for non-fluoride-based remineralizing toothpaste!

Is it possible to remove fluoride from your water? Fluoride can be removed from drinking water through various filtration methods, including reverse osmosis, distillation, and alumina defluoridation. Methods such as boiling or freezing water, however, do nothing but concentrate the fluoride, and should therefore be avoided.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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