Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical that is found in the air and in water at low levels, just like many other chemicals and minerals. However, there is much debate surrounding fluoride because not all of its sources are natural. Since 1962, fluoride has been artificially added to the drinking water in America, so that today around 70% of the population receives fluoridated water in their homes.
This nation-wide program was instigated after a discovery made by dentists in Colorado in 1945. The levels of naturally occurring fluorine in the water of different regions varies. Some areas will have very low levels, whereas in others the levels are significantly higher. Colorado is one of these areas with high natural occurring fluorine concentrations. A study revealed that the children from Colorado had far fewer cavities and less dental decay than children from low fluorine regions. With dental hygiene and practice not being as advanced as it is today, this discovery was hailed as the answer to the nation’s tooth problems. In an attempt to improve dental care and reduce dental bills, a nationwide program was begun to fluoridate all drinking water so that everyone would receive a dose of this teeth-preserving chemical.
However, this program is not all that it seems. Fluoride works by killing the bacteria in the mouth that cause plaque and, ultimately, dental decay. By increasing the levels of fluoride in the water, more bacteria are killed and the chances of cavities are reduced. This is particularly apparent in young children. On the surface, this looks like a good idea but as more research has been conducted on the topic, and as general teeth hygiene has improved, more and more holes are appearing in this argument.
Firstly, there is no opt-out system for this program. Whether you will benefit from receiving fluoridated water or not, if you are one of the 184 million people that live in fluoridated areas, you will get no choice. As a parent, the control over what your child is exposed to is taken out of your hands, in favor of a “one size fits all” system. Many argue that the benefits of receiving fluoride outweigh any risks, but it now appears that this may not be true. Fluoride is an ion of fluorine, which is a known toxin in its natural state. Although the fluoride levels in water are within relatively safe levels, it is impossible to say how much fluoride a person will take in.
Some people drink far more than others, some will have more exposure to water, and others will take in higher levels of naturally occurring fluorine/fluoride in their diet. High levels of fluoride can potentially be very dangerous. Not only does it kill the bacteria in the mouth, when ingested, it works its way through the body killing the bacteria that it encounters. This included the beneficial bacteria found in the gut. Fluoride upsets the natural balance of gut flora, making the system susceptible to gastric upsets and a weakened immune system.
In addition to this, rather than being the answer to many dental problems, it can actually cause problems. High levels of Fluoride can cause Fluorosis of the teeth, which leads to permanent white staining on the teeth. Instead of cutting dental costs by reducing cavities, high Fluoride levels can lead to far higher bills as patients try to rectify the whitening of their teeth. Not only can Fluoride accumulate in the teeth to cause whitening, it can also accumulate in bones. Fluorosis of the skeleton reduces the bone-strengthening calcium content of the bones and leads to osteoporosis and brittle bones. This is a very debilitating condition that drastically reduces the quality of life of its sufferers.
How to avoid Fluoride
Having established that fluoride is not the wonder chemical that it was first thought to be, many people are now opposed to the fluoridation program. Unfortunately, thus far, despite its opponents, the program still continues and there is very little that you can do to avoid it, besides buying an expensive water filter for your house. However, it is possible to reduce your fluoride intake by carefully selecting your toothpaste.
Most commercial toothpastes are a source of fluoride. In the same way as it was added to the water, toothpaste manufacturers also add it to their products to reduce cavities. But given that most people already receive high levels of fluoride in their water, it is not necessary to also take it in via toothpaste. Thankfully fluoride-free toothpaste is now available. Initially it could only be found in health stores but it is now widely available, and is just as effective at reducing bad breath, gum disease and other dental complaints. It does not have the same bacteria-killing effects of Fluoride toothpaste but that does not necessarily present a problem. As most people are receiving more than enough fluoride in their water, any additional fluoride is simply overkill. There is much more to dental hygiene than simply killing bacteria. Effective brushing and flossing, together with reducing sugar intake, are all far more important in the fight against cavities than fluoride.
If you are worried about over-exposure to fluoride, choosing fluoride-free toothpaste is the first step in taking action against it. As it now wide available, it is a simple choice to make and could potentially protect you and your family against significant health problems in the future.