Fluoride and drinking water: An ongoing controversy

Fluoride has been added to drinking water in the United States for 65 years to prevent tooth decay, however, many people question if the benefits outweigh the risks of ingesting this chemical. Find out what both sides have to say about fluoride in drinking water and be aware of the signs that your child may be ingesting too much.

Girl drinking tap water

Fluoride is a compound of fluorine that has been shown to strengthen tooth structure and prevent tooth decay. Fluoride protects teeth when it is applied topically to the surface, such as in toothpaste and mouthwashes, as well as systemically, such as ingested in drinking water.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently lowered the maximum fluoride level in our drinking water from 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7 milligrams per liter, however many are saying fluoride should be completely removed from our drinking water due to health concerns. The EPA insists that 140 studies show the safety of fluoride in drinking water, but a growing number of Americans are questioning this.

The benefits of fluoride

The Academy of General Dentistry says that drinking tap water will prevent cavities, citing a study published in the January/February 2010 issue of General Dentistry that says that “controlled addition of a fluoride compound to public water supplies is considered to be the most cost-effective way to prevent cavities and fight tooth decay.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, calling water fluoridation as “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

Dr Shehzad Sheikh of Dominion Dental Care agrees, saying that ingestion and contact with the teeth’s surface combats tooth decay. “Fluoride prevents the acid produced by the bacteria in plaque from dissolving tooth enamel. Fluoride also allows teeth damaged by acid to repair themselves. Fluoride cannot repair cavities, but it can reverse low levels of tooth decay and thus prevent new cavities from forming,” he says.

Dentist Dr Josh Berd, a Cosmetic and General Dentist practicing in San Francisco, agrees that we are not getting too much fluoride in drinking water. “The short answer is no… The consensus from the scientific and dental community is that water fluoridating at the recommended level is safe and provides oral health benefits.”

He does say to monitor your child’s fluoride intake, especially if they are using products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, with fluoride. “One sign of over-fluoridation is ‘dental fluorosis’ which appears as white spots or markings on the enamel of the tooth. ‘Dental fluorosis’ is merely a cosmetic issue and serves no harm to the actual tooth,” he says.

The risks of fluoride

Fluoride is added to everything from toothpaste to mouthwash, and many are saying that fluorisis is just one small symptom of too much fluoride, and others go much deeper. In fact, Dr Michael Wald, integrated medicine and nutrition specialist, says that fluoride causes an “increased risk of autoimmune diseases, cancers and many more problems have been demonstrated scientifically.”

Jeffrey Buske, an electrical engineer working in the medical electronics area, does not agree with the fact that everyone gets the same dose of fluoride, unlike most medications that are controlled according to your size and needs. “The dental benefit may be real, but you would apply direct to the teeth in a controlled dose. You don’t drink suntan oil to protect your skin. With ANY medication the dose must be controlled, one person could get 5xmore than the next.”

Buske also points out that we are being given a medicine, without our consent. “Medicating one without knowledge or permission is a crime, particularly when it is a known poison. Just read your toothpaste tube.”

Many studies have been done on the safety of fluoride in water. A study of Chinese children showed that those that drank water with a high level of fluoride (as high as 8.3 mg/L) had a lower IQ than those drinking water with lower levels of fluoride. Another study with rats linked fluoride to cancer; while another correlated a higher rate of hip fractures in fluoridated vs. non-fluoridated water.

It appears that a high level of ingested fluoride is unsafe and the EPA says they have studies to support they have found the safe level, but many critics are saying there is no “safe” level of fluoride in our drinking water.

Fluoride in infants and kids

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends using bottled water that is fluoride-free when making infant baby formula to prevent white spots or dental fluorosis. Your baby will be fine with breast milk or ready-to-feed formulas, but be aware that when using concentrated formulas that require you to add water, you must use fluoride-free water.

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