Water Fluoridation: To Drink or Not to Drink

In my last post, What Is Fluoride, I discussed what fluoride is and how it affects our enamel.  It aids in remineralizing enamel and prevents the demineralization of enamel.  It can also prevent bacteria from producing cavity enhancing acid. 

Community water fluoridation began in the 40s because studies showed that residents with higher naturally fluoridated water had fewer dental cavities.  To this day, it is touted as the most equitable and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of most communities.  Over the years, a significant decrease in dental cavities has been seen.  In the United States, the amount of fluoride in the water is from a range of 0.7-1.2 mg fluoride ion/L part per million (ppm). 

There are several classes of people that I run into:

  1. Those that believe fluoride works and is beneficial
  2. Those that think fluoride is toxic and harmful
  3. And people who do not care either way

I get asked on a regular basis if I actually believe in fluoride.  It’s almost the same as if someone asked me if I believed apples came from apple trees.  Through my four years of college, I learned about the how fluoride effects our teeth at an atomic level.  During my four years of dental school, I read countless articles that have undergone meta-analysis and systematic reviews (highest level of validated research).  And during my two years of pediatric dental residency, I have seen how fluoride has been beneficial to one of the poorest and most underprivileged communities in the nation.  I believe in fluoride because I have seen its benefits first-hand.  But I do understand that not everyone has had the same experiences I have had so it is normal to be skeptical.  Is it possible that I live in the Truman Show and everything I have learned is a big hoax?  I sure hope not!

To the people who believe that fluoride is toxic and harmful, all I can say is, “You are absolutely right.”  Just about anything in excess is not good for you.  Even drinking too much bottled water when drunk too fast at a large amount can cause your sodium levels in your blood to drop and be fatal.  It is well known that when a small child ingests too much fluoride (typically by eating toothpaste from a full tube), the side effects can affect their gastrointestinal system by causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.  If a very large amount is ingested, it can affect the central nervous system and symptoms of convulsions, numbness, and possible cardiovascular collapse.  So, yes, I would say it is toxic and can be harmful when used outside of its recommended guidelines.

A few years back, a study came out of Harvard University called Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.  I have provided the link below for your reading pleasure.  This paper collected studies from around the world that compared children’s water fluoridation levels and their IQ.  “The results supported the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment.  Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment” (Choi 2012).  I reviewed the studies that were listed and the fluoride levels that are present in many of the studies are 3-4 times higher than the amount used in the United States water fluoridation.  It is very interesting that these studies are evaluating a long-term effect of fluoride on children’s brains.  This research paper was well conducted by a highly prestigious university and is something to be cognizant of.

With all of this said, it does not make a difference to me if someone “believes in fluoride.”  I do find it important that my patients are well informed so they can decide what is right for their family.  Fluoride is not essential to having healthy teeth, but it is a tool that can be helpful if there is an imbalance in the oral cavity where cavities are forming.  If you feel fluoride could be helpful for your child, drinking fluoridated water and brushing your child’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste is a good place to start.  If you do not wish to have your child exposed to fluoride, drinking bottled or distilled water is always an option.  Newer refrigerators have reverse osmosis filtration systems which utilizes tap water but removes fluoride, as well as, other things like lead and chlorine. 

I hope this post was helpful in deciding what is right for your family.  And for those people who do not care one way or another if their water is fluoridated, keep doing what you are doing and thanks for reading!

References:

https://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/BP_FluorideTherapy.pdf

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(85)02022-0/pdf

Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491930/

Link to Check Your Water Fluoridation Level:

https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/Default/WaterSystemList.aspx