I visit my dentist often because I’m obsessed with getting cavities, even though I don’t have any yet. At every single appointment, he tells me how important fluoride is for my teeth. My dentist’s unfailing promotion of fluoride made me wonder if it is as essential for cavity prevention as he says it is. I also started to wonder how much fluoride we generally consume, what amount is safe to consume, and in what quantity does it become dangerous for human health. 

When did water fluoridation begin? 

In the mid-1940s, small levels of mineral fluoride started being added to community water supplies to reduce cavities among the population. This started in Grand Rapids in Michigan and eventually extended nationwide.  

Why scientists thought fluoride could improve teeth health. 

Fluoride can be naturally found in water, soil, and rocks. In the early 20th century, scientists noted that in populations that had higher levels of fluoride in their drinking water, fewer cavities occurred. Therefore, they concluded that fluoride strengthened teeth. 

What the evidence shows 

An interesting Harvard article points to a Cochrane report that explains how early scientific investigations on water fluoridation were mostly flawed and that cavity incidents have decreased in countries with water fluoridation and no water fluoridation alike, almost to the same extent. 

I don’t disagree that fluoride decreases cavities because this is a well-known fact. However, I am against people ingesting small amounts of fluoride for extended periods. 

This could be a double-edged sword; you’ll have fewer cavities but what consequences will you encounter in the future? There are so many noxious substances in tap water that are added for one reason or another, such as chloride for bacteria and fluoride for cavities. And let’s not forget all the other elements that end up in the water due to the extensive contamination of rivers and water wells. We end up drinking chemical compounds that are far from healthy. 

What are the most common sources of fluoride? 

Nowadays, we are exposed to fluoride because it’s in water, beverages, food, and fluoride-containing products, such as toothpaste and mouth rinses (although dental products are not usually swallowed). 

What are the recommended levels? 

In 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a maximum fluoride level of 4.0mg/L, although the average is 0.2mg/L. 

In the case of children, EPA set the levels to no more than 2.0mg/L. 

Is fluoride in water bad for babies? 

If your drinking water contains 2.0mg/L or less, it is safe for children 9 years old or younger to consume. This level of fluoride should not cause dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is a condition where fluoride prevents the enamel to form normally in developing teeth. This can lead to the permanent staining of teeth. 

Is fluoride dangerous for babies during pregnancy? 

Some research demonstrates that the fetus is exposed to fluoride, especially during mid-term pregnancy, since fluoride concentrations increase in the amniotic fluid. A Canadian study linked maternal exposure to higher levels of fluoride and lower IQ scores in children aged 3 to 4 years. 

Is fluoride a risk to adult health? 

Long-term exposure to levels higher than 4.0mg/L can lead to skeletal fluorosis, a condition in which fluoride adheres to the bones. The result is joint stiffness and pain that eventually leads to weak bones. In the elderly, high fluoride exposure increases the risk of fractures. 

Can fluoride cause cancer? 

There are many questions about the relationship between fluoride and osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. The controversy started in the 1900s after the results of a study conducted by the US National Toxicology Program were released. Researchers found some evidence of the cancer-causing potential of fluoridated water in male rats and a higher number of cases of osteosarcoma compared to those not exposed to that water. 

However, there was not enough evidence to support this, considering that osteosarcoma is a rare type of cancer and that so far, not every study has shown a strong connection between this disease and high concentrations of fluoride in water. 

In 2011, researchers reconsidered the relationship between osteosarcoma and fluoride. They examined samples of tumors in patients suffering from the disease, to measure fluoride concentrations. Again, there was no clear evidence to affirm that this substance could increase the risk of osteosarcoma. 

How to measure the levels of fluoride found in your water source 

If you consume water from a public source you can find out the levels by contacting your local community water system. 

In the case of consuming water from a private well, you can test your water in a reputable laboratory, which is always advisable not only for detecting fluoride but to know the water that you drink. 

How to remove fluoride in water  

People who live in areas with high fluoride concentrations can use a different water source, the most logical option is bottled water, which will inevitably contain lower levels. However, I don’t approve of bottled water due to environmental reasons and the effects that microplastic has on our bodies – a topic that is still not thoroughly understood. 

Another alternative is using a water filter that can filter fluoride efficiently. By using a filter, you can be sure your drinking water is safe. Water filters not only work for filtering fluoride but will remove various noxious substances, such as arsenic and mercury that accidentally end up in drinking water. 

Should we reduce exposure to fluoride from other sources? 

I advise reducing as many ingestible fluoride sources as possible e.g., food, and beverages. However, toothpaste containing fluoride is important because it reduces cavities. 

To conclude, it’s important to be informed about what substances can lurk in your water and how they can directly or indirectly contribute to health issues. I like to know that I drink the purest water possible since water is so vital for our bodies. I hope that you too feel inspired to consume the purest possible water. 

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