Fluoride: A Brush up on Facts, Benefits and Risks

The Pros and Cons of Fluoride

fluoride dental care

Fluoride and its safety factor has been the subject of extensive research, debate and controversy. This mineral found in bones and teeth, also naturally occurring in water, soil, rock, and plants has the dubious distinction of triggering major health risks. How true are these allegations?

Fluoridation, a process where small amounts of fluoride is added to public water supplies, has been condemned widely, as it poses major health risks. Yet, a highly developed nation like the United States continues to spike its water supply with supposedly ‘healthy doses’ of fluoride. So, is the drinking water doing more harm than good?

Facts on Fluoride

Fluoride is a mineral employed in various dental products to protect teeth against cavities and also preserve enamel. It is widely acclaimed for its role in boosting dental health.

The mineral is used in many dental hygiene products, for instance mouth rinses, toothpaste and supplements have prescribed amounts of the mineral. It is a powerful cleaning agent. It is also used in medical imaging scans, PET scans more specifically popularises its use. Pesticides also have this chemical in them.

How Does Fluoride Impact Dental Health?

If the report from The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is taken into consideration, it appears that from 1960 to 1990 there was a 68% drop in the average number of 12-year- olds with missing or completely decayed teeth. This dental progress is being attributed to changes in the content of dental hygiene products like toothpaste to include fluoride in its composition. Further, the introduction of this mineral in the water supply is also thought to have played a crucial role in boosting oral health.

To explain the impact, minerals in the tooth enamel are eaten away by acids that are produced when bacteria break down the carbs and sugar in the food. When the minerals get eaten away, a process called demineralisation; it leaves the tooth enamel susceptible to the onslaught of bacteria. This results in cavities and tooth decay.

Fluoride is thought to protect teeth from cavities and decay by decelerating the rate of mineral loss from the tooth enamel. It is also thought to protect teeth from the presence of harmful oral bacteria. It plays a pivotal role in rebuilding the tooth enamel.

Fluoride Sources and Exposure

This mineral is found in bones and teeth. It is naturally occurring in water, soil, rock, and plants.

  • Significant fluoride exposure especially among children takes place through dental products such as mouth rinses, toothpaste, fluoride gels, varnishes and supplements. Nearly 95% of toothpastes in the present days have fluoride. How much of this mineral do toothpastes contain?
  • The estimated content of this mineral in toothpastes is 1,000 to 1,500 ppm. According to analysis of a toothpaste strip on a child’s brush, it is estimated that a child probably deals with 0.75 to 1.5 mg of fluoride during a one-time brushing session. With the burgeoning of creative toothpaste brands and delicious flavours, it is not a surprise that children end up consuming almost 50% of the tooth paste.
  • This rather deliberate toothpaste consumption most often from unsupervised children is a major health concern. It appears that children exceed the permissible limit of fluoride intake in a day, attributed to just one source – the morning toothpaste.
  • Dentists have warned that intake of toothpaste throws open many dental risks for children, especially dental fluorosis. Acute fluoride toxicity is another major risk, a consequence of consistent fluoride ingestion. It is for this reason that dental products’ labelling includes the risks of excessive consumption of the mineral.
  • Fluoride mouth rinses, fluoride gels, fluoride varnishes and supplements are another source of the mineral.
  • Fluoride Supplements have been in use for more than 5 decades, yet it has not received the approval from FDA for its safety or effectiveness. Initially used to help people living in non-fluoridated areas, it began to be prescribed indiscriminately even in areas where fluoride levels in water was normal.
  • Review studies have found that these supplements do not positively impact or protect against tooth decay. On the contrary, it can increase the risks of children developing dental fluorosis.

Side Effects from Fluoride Ingestion

It is estimated that the amount of this mineral added to water In the United States is nearly 0.7 parts per million (ppm). This happens to be the maximum permissible limit of this chemical in the local water supply. While it is a naturally occurring mineral, it can still cause side effects when consumed in large doses. Some of the side effects are:

  • Dental Fluorosis
    Children are most often the unwitting victims of this condition, especially those who are in the 7 to 9 age group. These children have their permanent teeth just about making its presence. Dental fluorosis is a reality, because fluoride ingestion while brushing is a very common occurrence among children this age. Dental fluorosis can be recognised as white spots on the teeth’s surface.
  • Skeletal fluorosis
    Skeletal fluorosis results after prolonged exposure to increased levels of fluoride especially in drinking water. This affects the bones and the initial symptoms portrayed are pain and discomfort in the joints manifested also as stiffness. Left untreated, it can result in skeletal issues and even change the structure of the bone.

How Dangerous is Fluoridated Water?

Fluoride oral healthMany American cities have taken to fluoridation of their local water supplies. While the amount added to drinking water is considered to be relatively safe, exposure to high levels of the chemical may be linked to several health issues.

There have been innumerable studies globally to understand the effects of adding measured quantity of fluoride to water supply. Although there have been allusions of fluoridated water and its link with health issues, no concrete evidence has come forth yet.

  • Low IQ
    Some of the claims made by on-going medical research and insight suggest that the presence of fluoride in water has resulted in cases of kidney disease, arthritis, and bone cancer. Several studies that sought to understand the connection between low IQ scores and use of fluoride in children have not provided conclusive results.
  • A 2012 insight had made a mention of a perceived link between the two but also stated that more exhaustive research and studies is needed to prove this claim. Reports of its adverse impact on low IQ scores among children cannot be over emphasised.
  • Bone Cancer
    A study conducted in 2006 found increased incidences of bone cancer among males who were exposed to fluoridated water in childhood. Subsequent reviews in 2011 and 2016 could not establish any connection between fluoride exposure in childhood and bone cancer. Research has not conclusively proved and the claims are confusing.
  • Compelling Evidence – Summary of 2018 Insight into the Side Effects of Fluoride Ingestion in Children
  • Sixty research studies were undertaken in June 2018 to gauge the extent of risks and estimate its influence on children’s intellect. Further, IQ assessments of close to 15,000 children pointed strongly to the deleterious effects of fluoride on children’s brain, especially in the developmental stage.
  • The study results from 40 animal experiments pointed to deficient learning and memory capacity with elevated exposure to this chemical additive.
  • Researchers from Harvard who reviewed nearly 27 investigations of the human IQ studies have outlined the imperativeness of more detailed studies to gauge its effect on young developing brains.

Fluoridation Advocates

Statistics portrayed by the Fluoride Action Network point to the consumption of fluoridated water by nearly 377,655,000 million people worldwide. This translates to about 5% of the entire population in the world.

Reportedly, 25 countries have embarked on programs to fluoridate water. Strangely, less than 20% of the population in 11 out of the 25 countries actually use fluoridated water for consumption.

According to the report from the Fluoride action network, most developed nations do not advocate fluoridation of water. The report also states that it is only a miniscule 3% that consume fluoridated water in Western Europe.

Sadly , the report also reveals that in about 11 countries in the world, more than half of their population drinks fluoridated water. The statistics of these countries show the extent of fluoridated water consumption in percentage.

  • The Irish Republic (73%),
  • Brunei (95%);
  • Guyana (62%),
  • Hong Kong (100%)
  • Malaysia (75%),
  • Australia (80%),
  • United States (64%).
  • Chile (70%),
  • Israel (70%),
  • New Zealand (62%),
  • Singapore (100%)

Alarmingly, the reports found the extent of fluoridated water use in these countries, exposing the users to the dangers of fluoride toxicity.

Earlier reports had alleged the role of fluoridated water in increasing incidences of tooth decay. The Fluoride Action Network released a report which showed no major difference in the incidences of tooth decay amongst nations that used fluoridated water vis a vis those that didn’t.

Is Fluoride Indispensable?

As early as the 1950’s, scientists were of the opinion that fluoride was a nutritional must. They believed that fluoride must be consumed in order to enjoy good health.

Dentists were of the opinion that consumption of fluoride during childhood was the foundation for good bones and teeth.

So, is fluoride deficiency a reality that should send alarm bells ringing?

The answer to this question is best summed up by the CDC. It said that the deficiency of this mineral is not the main reason for the presence of dental caries among children. There could be other factors contributing to the dental condition. Similarly, it cannot be assumed that in high concentration it will be effective in preventing dental caries.

To sum up, the perfect pearly whites are not the result of consuming fluoridated water.  Or using any fluoride-based dental product either. On the contrary it could be the result of a combination of calcium rich food, perfect oral care and hygiene.


  • Tooth decay impacts life negatively much more than estimated
  • Water fluoridation is extremely cost effective to begin and maintain. It can reduce healthcare costs in the long run
  • Most of this mineral is extracted from phosphate rock
  • Both infants and young kids can safely use fluoridated water




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