Fluoride in our water supplies. A subject of much controversy. So many opinions, theories and embellished “studies” how can anyone make up their mind on the subject? That’s what we’re here for! To bring you just the facts.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is derived from Fluorine, the 13th most common element in our Earth’s crust and can be found in nearly all naturally occurring water sources. The levels in which fluoride is found in water varies from region to region. This mineral has been proven to help protect against damaging plaque bacteria.
What exactly does Fluoride do? Here’s an analogy.
Let’s say our teeth are castles. The hard enamel outer surface is the mighty fortress walls to keep out the invading Plaque. But we are not kind to our teeth. Nature is not kind to our teeth. Nearly everything we consume for nutrition hides sugars and acids that aid Plaque in its quest to breach the enamel walls and create deep cavities to destroy our teeth-castles. Plaque feeds on those sugars and excretes its own acid. That acid is Plaque’s biggest weapon. Especially if you don’t brush properly, or often enough. And if you don’t floss you are just leaving back doors open for Plaque to find. Now, once that acid is sitting on the enamel fortress walls of our teeth-castles, the walls start to break down. They get thinner. Weaker. And eventually, the acid eats a hole in the enamel and the bacteria from the Plaque moves into the inner structure of our teeth-castles like a menacing army. Now your teeth have cavities and now you have to become very good buddies with your dentist, who has to repair the damage with amalgam (silver) and resin compound fillings. If the damage is really bad, sometimes they can’t save the tooth. Yikes! Without all the proper brushing and flossing and general care, you lost the battle to tooth decay. And that’s a bad battle to lose. An expensive battle to lose.
So where does Fluoride come in? Fluoride is your secret line of defense. The enemy’s acid attackers never see it just sitting there, on the surface of the enamel. Waiting like an impenetrable barrier. It makes the enamel stronger, thicker. If the acid demineralized the enamel structure of your tooth, fluoride helps to remineralize enamel helping to prevent existing cavities from continuing to form. Fluoride is your teeth’s castle guard.
You’re telling me there is Fluoride in my water?
Yes. But, let’s discuss why. In the 1930’s dental scientists in Colorado Springs, CO began documenting that the occurrence and severity of tooth decay was lower among people whose water supplies contained higher amounts of natural fluoride. Exhaustive studies followed and it was discovered that fluoride, when present in the mouth, can concentrate in plaque and saliva and help prevent the breakdown of enamel minerals. In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan added fluoride to its municipal water system. Community water fluoridation is the way an area adjusts the fluoride content of its water supply to a level the helps to prevent tooth decay and promote oral health. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, fluoride isn’t added to the water, sometimes it’s taken out. In certain regions, the natural fluoride content of water sources are too high. So it’s filtered down to an optimal level for a healthy smile. For example, Madison water has fluoride added to it to bring it up to an optimal level for tooth decay prevention. But Johnson Creek does not add fluoride to its water supply, as its natural fluoride content is very near the optimal level. It should be noted that Colorado Springs does not add fluoride to its water supply. And for a while in the very early beginnings of Community Water Fluoridation, Colorado Springs was one of the few cities that had some of the fluoride filtered from the water. Now Colorado Springs purchases its water from a water system with a natural fluoride concentration very close to the optimal level.
What is the optimal level of Fluoride?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work together to maintain the benefits of preventing tooth decay while preventing excessive exposure. In 2011, the HHS proposed the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water be set to the lowest end of the current optimal range and the EPA began reviewing the maximum amount of fluoride. Until that time, the optimal range was 0.7mg/L to 1.2 mg/L (milligrams per liter). But, since the optimal level of 0.7mg/L is a recommendation, individual states and individual counties can decide on their own amount, based on that recommendation. Some may choose to go to the highest end of the range, 1.2mg/L, whereas some may choose to go under the lowest end. A region does not have to fluoridate its water supply. It is not a law. It is a recommendation for the oral health of a community. The only enforcement comes after a decision to fluoridate has been reached, and monitoring begins. A region can go under the lowest recommended amount. But can not go above the highest end. The optimal level range is based on the amount of fluoride found to be safe to ingest. Higher amounts can result in adverse health effects.
(By the way, Madison, WI is at 1.00 mg/L)
Have you even heard someone claim they don’t use toothpaste because it has fluoride in it, and fluoride is bad for you? Yes, most toothpastes have fluoride in them. And yes, if that person gulps down the entire tube in one swallow, that person will feel quite sick. But in that case, it’s not just the fluoride giving that person stomach problems. Toothpaste has a lot of other chemicals in it. Abrasives such as aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonates, varies silicas and phosphates, and detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate can all be found in most common toothpastes. And mass consumption of these ingredients can upset ones’ tummy.
Yes, fluoride, in extremely high quantities, is a poison. But before you start to get worked up on that idea, think about everything else we put into our body. Even if you don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes (both of which are known poisons), there are foods that, in high dosages, can become poisonous. Did you know cashews are deadly if eaten raw? Every cashew consumed in the world is roasted first. And that roasting MUST be done outside because the smoke can be toxic as well. Potatoes, as they develop are poisonous. The green flesh of certain potatoes can be very poisonous, in extremely high quantities. A 100 pound human has to eat 16 ounces of a fully green potato before the toxin takes hold. So, before you start judging fluoride, remember, a lot of our foods can be toxic in varying degrees and amounts.
But the knowledge that fluoride can be toxic makes a lot of people jumpy. And jumpiness can lead to a lot of conclusions, not always supported with evidence. For example: there is a number of theories claiming even minimal amounts of fluoride in our water supply can cause cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, EPA and HHS, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. It’s just accusation and speculation, according to these organizations.
The only known side effects come after a massive amount of fluoride is consumed. A dose that would make a normal person sick is around 200 mg/L or more. Ingesting this much fluoride can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A lethal dose is 5-10 grams. At amounts between 200 mg/L and 10 grams, other adverse health effects can happen as well. Prolonged exposure to toxic levels of fluoride can cause bone density loss, kidney problems (and eventual failure), possible thyroid problems and even some brain development complications. Of course, the scientists who conducted studies to identify these conditions readily offer that these were not strictly regulated studies and misunderstandings and poor data results have clouded the final outcomes.
So what does that mean? It means, yes, fluoride has side effects, when consumed in outrageous amounts. Yes, fluoride can make you sick, can even kill you. But if you are responsible, don’t eat insecticides and pesticides, and avoid other high levels of fluoride, all it can do is help you in the fight against tooth decay.
Some people may be informed enough to know the government isn’t trying to poison us by providing fluoride in our water supply. But they may still have a problem with the idea that fluoride is a medical supplement, and without our express permission, it is being put into our drinking water. A form of compulsory mass medication, it has been labelled. It is argued that consent by all water drinkers can not be obtained, nor can water suppliers accurately control the exact level of fluoride an individual receives nor monitor their response. There are a lot of opinions on this matter. Some call it a violation of governmental codes and basic human rights. Some say it’s just immoral. Others claim it infringes on autonomy based on uncertain evidence.
But this is purely opinion. Ethics in all things can be very touchy. Inform yourself and make your own decisions on the matter of water fluoridation.
Now you may be saying, “I know of other countries that don’t fluoridate their water and their teeth are fine. Isn’t that evidence enough?”
No. Let’s take Germany, for instance. Germany does not have water fluoridation. But the oral health of the country is pretty good, right? Absolutely. Why is this different from the U.S.? Because we don’t offer school-based dental care. In Germany, primary schools have “in-house” dental care for every child attending that school. For a lot of children in the U.S., fluoride in the drinking water is the only exposure they have to it’s protective nature. You see, the effectiveness and need for water fluoridation can vary according to circumstances such as whether preventative dental care is free to all children.
So there you have it. The facts about water fluoridation laid before you. Being informed with unbiased facts about the situation, you can decide what is best for you and your oral health. If you find yourself against fluoridated water, there are filtration systems you can purchase to extract the fluoride. If you find yourself in favor of fluoridated water, make sure you drink the recommended amount of water for a healthy body and smile.