Is fluoride safe? Have you found yourself asking the question after a cleaning at the dentist’s? While the research surrounding fluoride is constantly evolving, the current data is clear.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in trace amounts in water, soil, and a variety of foods. When ingested, fluoride is absorbed in the gut and stored in teeth and bones. Unabsorbed fluoride is excreted in urine. The effects of fluoride, good or bad, are more pronounced in children, who absorb it more readily.
The FDA has not established a Recommended Dietary Allowance for fluoride because nutritional requirements have not been established. In fact, there is still a great deal of room for research on the subject. This has led to a great deal of discussion about fluoride safety, and if you are nervous for the sake or your health or the health of your kids, we invite you to read on.
Where Is Fluoride Found?
Fluoride is found in many toothpastes and in American drinking water. While these are the most common sources, it can also be found in foods that absorb it from the soil, tea leaves, coffee beans, potatoes, oats, raisins, and the shells and muscles of shellfish. It can also be found in non-ingestibles, things like dental pastes, gels, varnishes, and mouth washes. Because these are only used on the surface of teeth, they do not contribute much to the total intake of fluoride.
While fluoride safely exists naturally in water, some cities add it to their water supply as well. The EPA has an enforceable drinking water standard of 4.0 mg of fluoride per liter and a non-enforceable recommendation of 2.0 mg/L to avoid overexposure. Fluoride may also be taken in vitamin supplements at the recommendation of a healthcare professional. Very trace amounts of fluoride can even be found in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and industrial emissions.
Is Fluoride Safe for Your Teeth?
Fluoride is most commonly associated with its role in building strong teeth and bones. It helps remineralize tooth surfaces, promoting dental health and shoring up tooth enamel. In this way, it can help halt or reverse tooth decay. When used in the correct concentrations, fluoride safely protects teeth against discoloration and pitting. It can also prevent skeletal fluorosis, a condition characterized by pain and tenderness in the major joints.
While fluoride is generally very safe, like all things, too much can lead to problems. This primarily pertains to fluoride’s ingestion, as the mineral is toxic in high concentrations in the blood or digestive system. Consuming too much fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis, the antithesis of fluoride’s greatest strength. In cases of dental fluorosis, the tooth enamel becomes discolored with white spots.
Perhaps the most severe side effect of ingesting too much fluoride is skeletal fluorosis. This very rare condition can follow over fluorination of drinking water or overconsumption of fluoride supplements. The defining characteristic of skeletal fluorosis is bone loss after chronically excessive intakes, but other symptoms may include tenderness or weakness in the bones and joints, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
Fluoride’s effects, good and bad, affect children more dramatically than adults. This is because their bones and teeth are still in the formative stage and even small concentrations are greater relative to their small body weight. While most children who get fluoride do not get dental fluorosis, if they do it is usually before the age of eight. Excessive fluorination can also lead to pits in the tooth enamel.
Monitor Your Fluoride Intake
The key to making sure you use fluoride safely is to monitor your fluoride intake. Pay attention to the fluoride levels at which your city keeps your water. If the concentrations are high, you should consider asking your dentist if you should give your children water bottles or make baby formula preparations without tap water.
Alternatively, if your city’s fluoride levels are low, you should ask your dentist whether or your children should take fluoride supplements. If your dentist or doctor prescribes fluoride, take care to stick to the exact dose recommended.
Regular dental visits are vital for fluoride safety, for both children and adults. Professional monitoring can catch warning signs of any trouble early on. Parents can also use discretion to keep their kids safe. Children should visit the dentist within 6 months of their first tooth surfacing or by their first birthday, whichever event comes first.
To limit fluoride ingestion, parents are recommended to wait to use fluoridated toothpaste with their kids until they are 2 years old. Consult with your dentist, especially about children younger than two. The CDC recommends that children younger than six brush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, spit out the paste instead of swallowing it, and rinse well after brushing. Because young children have difficulty controlling their swallowing reflex, parents should monitor the tooth brushing ritual.