EDITOR’S SUMMARY: Whether you came from the baby boom, Generation X, or millennial time period, from your first days to today, you’ve likely been consuming fluoride, in your water supply, your food, and in your toothpaste without your consent. Touted as prevention from tooth decay, and pushed by dentists across the globe, it’s been nearly impossible to escape exposure. However, there’s a reason why you see fluoride-free toothpaste on the store shelf, and why water filters have been designed to remove fluoride from your drinking water. The potential health risks to multiple body systems are clearly indicated in the research.
By Carter Trent
Whether you were diligent or not at brushing your teeth as a child, you likely used toothpaste with fluoride. About 90% of toothpaste brands contain the mineral. For decades, fluoride has been endorsed as an effective tool in the battle against cavities. And yes, it possesses properties that help reduce the risk of tooth decay by strengthening the hard outer surface of your teeth, called enamel.
But scientific studies also reveal fluoride exposure can create long-term damage to your health. In fact, the discovery of fluoride as a cavity-fighting agent began in 1901 because a dentist named Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was surprised to find residents with hideous brown stains on their teeth.
Discoloration of the teeth is called dental fluorosis, where spots appear on your enamel due to excessive consumption of fluoride. For the Colorado Springs residents of 1901, the mineral had tainted their water supply. Fluoride occurs naturally in soil, and leaches into water, or is blown into the air by the wind. Therefore, plants, animals, and humans are routinely exposed to small amounts of it.
Dental fluorosis occurs as teeth are developing, so children are most susceptible to the condition when they are transitioning from baby to adult teeth. Once your teeth are affected by fluorosis, the stains are permanent. The only option is to cover up the damage through cosmetic dental procedures, such as veneers or dental bonding.
Frederick McKay was determined to find the cause of Colorado Springs’ affliction, and was helped by the dean of Northwestern University Dental School and renowned researcher, Dr. G.V. Black, who wrote:
“I spent considerable time walking on the streets, noticing the children in their play, attracting their attention and talking with them about their games, etc., for the purpose of studying the general effect of the deformity. I found it prominent in every group of children. One does not have to search for it, for it is continually forcing itself on the attention of the stranger by its persistent prominence. This is much more than a deformity of childhood. If it were only that, it would be of less consequence, but it is a deformity for life.”
Remarkably, McKay and Black learned Colorado Springs residents with dental fluorosis possessed lower rates of tooth decay compared to those without the stains. McKay would also eventually learn fluoride caused the discoloration. Then, in the 1930s, in an effort to prevent dental fluorosis, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to measure fluoride in drinking water, and discovered a level of up to 1 part per million could avoid dental fluorosis in most people while reinforcing enamel.
Even back then, dentists and medical experts believed diet contributed to tooth decay. But trying to change the eating habits of Americans seemed an impossible hurdle to overcome in the 1930s, so instead, the idea of adding fluoride to drinking water was seen as a solution. Now, research confirms the microorganisms living in your mouth, which used to help protect your teeth, have changed as a result of consuming industrially-processed and sugary foods, exposing your teeth to dental and periodontal diseases.
This idea was first tested on a large scale in 1945, when Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city in the world to add fluoride to its water supply, in an effort to reduce cavities. Then in 1956, Crest became the world’s first toothpaste to contain fluoride. Today, all toothpastes with the American Dental Association’s seal of acceptance are required to include the mineral.
Moreover, many municipalities have followed Grand Rapids, and now add fluoride to drinking water, exposing nearly 75% of the U.S. population to it. So where does all this fluoride come from? It’s a waste byproduct of the fertilizer industry. The process of creating synthetic fertilizer gives off fluoride gasses that are so toxic, breathing in the fumes can cause lung damage and death. Unfortunately, the fertilizer industry captures these gasses in storage tanks, and sells it to cities to add to your drinking water.
But unlike the pharmaceutical grade fluoride in toothpaste, this fluoride is untreated, and consequently, contains arsenic and lead. So it’s not surprising a nine-month investigation by Consumer Reports and the Guardian found alarming levels of arsenic, lead, and other chemicals in drinking water across the U.S.
Moreover, studies showed drinking fluoridated water and using toothpaste with fluoride resulted in double the incidence of dental fluorosis compared to those who didn’t use a fluoridated toothpaste. Today, nearly 25% of Americans have dental fluorosis, while 41% of adolescents have it, an increase of nearly two times the number of cases in 1987.
You may notice different names for fluoride as a result of the type of additive added to the fluoridation. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Water Fluoridation Additives”:
“Community water systems in the United States use one of three additives for water fluoridation. Decisions on which additive to use are based on cost of product, product-handling requirements, space availability, and equipment.
The three additives are:
- Fluorosilicic acid: a water-based solution used by most water systems in the United States. Fluorosilicic acid is also referred to as hydrofluorosilicate, FSA, or HFS.
- Sodium fluorosilicate: a dry salt additive, dissolved into a solution before being added to water.
- Sodium fluoride: a dry salt additive, typically used in small water systems, dissolved into a solution before being added to water.”
Causing Havoc Throughout the Body
Unquestionably, dental fluorosis is far from the worst damage fluoride can inflict on you. Fluoride also accumulates in your bones, and eventually causes stiffness and pain in the joints that can lead to arthritis. A study published in September 2023 revealed fluoride levels in drinking water increase the risk of osteoarthritis in your knee:
“Previous studies indicate that fluoride in drinking water has a toxic effect on cartilage and skeleton, which triggers osteoarthritis (OA) of which the most frequent is knee OA (KOA).”
This condition is called skeletal fluorosis. It indicates your fluoride exposure has reached toxic levels. Skeletal fluorosis can cause bone deformities, osteosclerosis (an abnormal hardening of your bones), calcification of your ligaments (which creates pain), and increased risk of fractures. Although exact numbers are not known, it’s estimated tens of millions of people around the world are affected by skeletal fluorosis, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Beyond the detrimental effects on your teeth and bones, research has shown fluoride is also a source of neurotoxicity, particularly for a developing fetus, and during early childhood. Just as fluoride accumulates in your bones, it does the same in brain tissue, to the point where fluoride can lower your intelligence quotient (IQ).
Multiple studies confirmed pregnant women who consumed too much fluoride resulted in their children being born with diminished cognitive function. For example, researchers from the study, “Prenatal Fluoride Exposure and Cognitive Outcomes in Children at 4 and 6–12 Years of Age in Mexico,” evaluated the IQs of children at age 4, then again at ages 6 to 12, and confirmed higher levels of fluoride exposure during the prenatal stage of life led to IQ decline.
Research published in 2023 from ScienceDirect: Environmental Research, “Fluoride exposure and cognitive neurodevelopment: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis,” again corroborated these findings.They identified that your IQ is adversely affected by fluoride levels as low as 0.7 milligrams per liter of water (mg/L), which is the level recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for fluoridation of drinking water. The research also noted damage to your IQ rises as the level of fluoride intake increases. And another research study confirmed fluoride consumption contributes to cognitive decline as you age.
Despite these studies, the U.S. justifies fluoridation of drinking water by pointing to a drop in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. However, a similar decline in tooth decay occurred in countries that did not fluoridate their water, as a result of several factors, which included improved access to preventive services, such as regular visits to dentists and hygienists, and increased commitment to maintaining good oral hygiene throughout life. In fact, most of Western Europe rejected adding fluoride to water supplies, including France, Germany, and Italy.
Sadly, in the U.S., the HHS-recommended level of 0.7 mg/L of fluoride in your drinking water is only a suggestion. The actual level of fluoride in your municipal water supply may be higher, especially since the HHS previously recommended up to 1.2 mg/L until 2015 when the limit was reduced. Adding to this issue is the fact that drinking water isn’t the only source of your fluoride exposure. Sodas such as Sprite and Pepsi, were found to have fluoride levels between 0.12 to 0.42 mg/L, while some bottled waters contained fluoride levels up to 2.4 mg/L.
Dental products, such as mouthwash and floss, can contain fluoride, as do many brands of toothpaste. In fact, toothpaste contains levels of fluoride over 1,000 times more than the HHS recommendation of 0.7 mg/L. As a result, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry warns against swallowing toothpaste, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires dental products containing fluoride to include a warning label:
“Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
Compounding the problem is the widespread push to use fluoride as a tool to fight cavities in the medical and dental industries. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends fluoride varnish treatments for babies once their first teeth emerge. The AAP recommends to pediatricians:
- “Perform oral health risk assessments on all children at every routine well-child visit beginning at 6 months of age.
- Recommend use of fluoridated toothpaste starting at eruption of the first tooth. A smear or grain of rice sized amount is recommended for children younger than 3 years, and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is appropriate for most children starting at 3 years of age.
- Apply fluoride varnish according to the recommended periodicity schedule. Fluoride varnish is a proven tool in early childhood caries prevention.
- Know how to determine the concentration of fluoride in a child’s primary drinking water and determine the need for systemic supplements.
- Advocate for water fluoridation in the local community.
- Understand indications for silver diamine fluoride and be able to recognize the clinical appearance of teeth treated with silver diamine fluoride, which is a minimally invasive, low-cost liquid solution that is painted on cavity lesions.”
Dental professionals, such as your dentist or dental hygienist, use fluoride treatments, such as gel, varnish, and foam. These products can contain fluoride doses up to 20 times more than the amount found in toothpaste; more than enough to inflict skeletal fluorosis. Food also contains fluoride, either naturally from the environment, from fluoridated water during irrigation, or through pesticides. The average daily fluoride intake from food and water alone is estimated at 2.7 mg/L if your community fluoridates its water supply.
Actions You Can Take To Minimize Your Fluoride Exposure
Given the proliferation of fluoride today, what might you do to reduce your susceptibility? First, learn if fluoride has been added to your drinking water, and if so, how much. Many cities publish an annual water quality report where the information can be found.
If your drinking water contains fluoride, you can switch to bottled water as a temporary solution. However, you should check with the company to confirm if fluoride was added, and note that bottled water has its own separate set of issues. So at best, it’s a stop-gap until you find a long-term solution.
One such solution is to purchase a home water filtration system. Some are intended to filter water for the entire house by connecting to your plumbing, but they can be pricey. Others simply connect to your sink, so it’s localized and costs less. One budget-minded solution is to buy a water filter dispenser that sits on your counter, although you’ll have to pour the water into it, and wait for it to process before drinking.
However, not all water filters remove fluoride. Only a handful of filters are able to do this. These include reverse osmosis filters, deionizers, activated alumina, bone char, and activated carbon from sources such as coconut shell.
Another step you can take is to avoid toothpaste containing fluoride. Today, options for toothpaste without it exist, and review sites are available with recommendations to help with your research. This also means it’s ideal to avoid dental procedures using fluoride, such as applying a fluoride varnish on your teeth.
Consuming organic food is another way to lower your fluoride exposure. In conjunction, avoiding processed foods, especially beverages such as juices and sports drinks is wise. Typically, beverages contain a greater amount of fluoride than food.
While it’s not easy to avoid fluoride entirely, it’s important to take active steps toward harm reduction. The World Health Organization (WHO) states:
“Fluoride intake has both beneficial effects – in reducing the incidence of dental caries – and negative effects – in causing tooth enamel and skeletal fluorosis following prolonged high exposure. The ranges of intakes producing these opposing effects are not far apart.”
In conclusion: It doesn’t take much of an increase in fluoride consumption to tip the scale toward having negative effects on your body. By keeping your fluoride intake as low as possible, you’ll minimize health risks from long-term exposure. It’s become common practice to question theories about so-called good health and prevention set forward many moons ago … perhaps before you were well-informed.
Published on November 16, 2023.
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