Fluoride is probably an ingredient you’re used to seeing on your toothpaste or hearing about at your dental clinic. However, most communities in North America also add it to their tap water.
The logic behind this was that since naturally occurring fluoride helped prevent tooth decay, it’s synthetic form would do so as well. Since then, water fluoridation has been quite a controversy.
Despite rising concerns, big dental and aluminum companies continue pressuring municipal governments to fluoridate their water, citing public health concerns.
However, there is a lot of evidence that shows that fluoride may not be the hero it’s been made out to be.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is the name given to a group of compounds that are composed of the naturally occurring element fluorine and one or more other elements. Fluorides are present naturally in water and soil at varying levels (1).
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However, the fluoride used in water fluoridation is a by-product of the aluminum industry. In fact, the FDA qualifies it as a drug, although it’s commonly advertised as a nutrient (2).
Still, the Center for Disease Control And Prevention places water fluoridation among the 10 great public health achievements in the 20th century (3).
Currently, only about 5% of the world population is fluoridated and more than 50% of these people live in North America (4).
How It All Began
In the 1940s, scientists discovered that people who lived where drinking water supplies had naturally occurring fluoride levels of approximately 1 part fluoride per million parts water or greater (>1.0 ppm) had fewer dental caries (cavities) than people who lived where fluoride levels in drinking water were lower (5).
Around the same time, large aluminum production companies were complaining about the rising costs of disposing of their waste, including hydrofluorosilicic acid, commonly know as fluoride (the one they put in your water).
With the help of scientists and dentists, the companies convinced the FDA that this toxic substance would have similar effects on dental hygiene as its naturally occurring counterpart.
Since then, most communities in North America have continued to fluoridate their water supply without giving citizens the choice of having non-fluoridated water at their disposal.
It Has No Clear Benefit
“They have to justify forcing this on people who don’t want it – it’s a violation of the principle of informed consent,” Paul Connett, a Briton who taught chemistry at St Lawrence University, in New York, for 23 years, and helped set up the Fluoride Action Network in the US, told The Guardian.
“You can couple that with the fact that once you put it in the water you can’t control the dose or who it goes to. Also, is it effective? At least demonstrate that it’s effective and then demonstrate that it’s safe.”
Why It’s Controversial
Since the early days of community water fluoridation, the prevalence of dental caries has declined in both communities with and communities without fluoridated water in the United States (6).
Stephen Peckham, director and professor of health policy at Kent University’s center for health service studies, said (7): “Water fluoridation was implemented before statistics had been compiled on its safety or effectiveness. It was the only cannon shot they had in their armoury. It gets rolled out, becomes – in England – policy and then you look for evidence to support it.”
Among other things, fluoride has been categorized as a neurotoxin.
It’s also been linked to:
- bone cancer in boys
- bladder cancer
- hip fractures
- lower IQ in children
- Dental fluorosis
Health experts have been relighting the debate on the safety and necessity of fluoridated water. As it stands, 97% of western Europe has rejected water fluoridation.
Additionally, many children now exceed recommended daily fluoride intake from toothpaste alone, making them more susceptible to these negative side effects.
To protect yourself and your family from fluoride, consider purchasing a water filtration system for your home, avoid drinking bottled water (which often contains added fluoride) and consider trying a fluoride detox.