Along with the debate over mercury in dental amalgams, the fluoride debate has also kept dental professionals and patients hopping. The dental profession continues to espouse the importance of fluoride, and research and studies have shown that it can positively affect the dental health of those who use fluoride toothpastes and drink fluoridated water. Meanwhile, other studies have shown there to be risks associated with fluoride.
My goal with this article is provide both sides of the argument so you can decide for yourself. I’m not always one to take things at face value. I don’t believe everything the government or health officials tell me. I like to make up my own mind.
For those of who, until now, haven’t even known there was a debate, I hope this will help enlighten you. For those who have always wondered what the debate was all about, I hope to provide the answers to those questions. This article really isn’t intended to argue for or against any particular side and should not be considered an endorsement for either.
The Benefits of Fluoride
The average adult carries 2.6 grams (.09 oz/.0057 lbs) of fluoride in their body, 95 per cent of that in their bones and teeth. Fluoride’s main role in the body is to strengthen bone and prevent tooth decay. It is believed that using fluoride toothpastes and drinking fluoridated water strengthens the enamel of teeth by strengthening the mineral composition of teeth.
“The only clear effect of inadequate fluoride intake is an increased risk of dental caries (tooth decay) for individuals of all ages. Studies of patterns of water consumption and the prevalence of dental caries across different climates and geographic regions with different water fluoride concentrations in the United States led to the development of a recommended optimum range of fluoride concentration of 0.7-1.2 mg/liter or parts per million (ppm), with the lower concentration recommended for warmer climates where water consumption is higher, and the higher concentration for colder climates. A number of studies conducted prior to the introduction of fluoride-containing toothpastes demonstrated that the prevalence of dental caries was 40% to 60% lower in communities with optimal water fluoride concentrations than in communities with low water fluoride concentrations.” (www.vitamins-nutrition.org)
The guidelines published by the World Health Organization in 1984 stated that fluoride was “an effective agent for preventing dental caries [cavities] if taken in optimal amounts.”
The Dangers of Fluoride
As with most health issues, the individual health of each patient varies rendering the establishment a specific optimal amount impossible. Each person’s health situation determines how much fluoride is absorbed by the body. For example, those who do not take in enough calcium will increase the retention of fluoride – which is quite interesting when studies come out that show an increased link between fluoridated water and bone structure issues, like hip fractures – which tend to happen in older people.
If fluoride is regularly used in large quantities (2 parts per million (PPM)) over time, it can poison the body, leading to discolored teeth. In concentrations of 8 ppm it can be a contributing factor to bone disorders, kidney, liver and adrenal failure, as well as issues with the heart, reproductive system and central nervous system. As with most things, young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible.
For many years it was thought that ingestion of fluoride – that is swallowing fluoridated water and processing the fluoride through the digestive system – was the most effective way of maintaining dental and osseous fluoride levels. A report published by the CDC in 1999 said their research suggested that fluoride works topically, from being applied directly to the teeth. Similar results have been brought forward by articles in the British Medial Journal (2007) and by the National Research Council (2006). So, if the benefit to the body is topical rather than systemic, why is it still added to our drinking water?
The fluoride in toothpaste is applied to the teeth during brushing. The fluoride ingested through fluoridated water is processed through the body systemically and such intake has been linked to serious bone issues, cancer and intellectual issues.
Some European countries have already removed the fluoridation process from their water and are producing fluoride-free toothpastes. Some North American toothpaste companies are providing low-fluoride or no-fluoride products for use with small children and babies.
In addition to water, toothpastes and other dental health products, fluoride is also found in food and in the air from the production of phosphate fertilizers or the burning of fuels that contain fluoride. So eliminating fluoride completely from our society is not likely. But we should at least be aware of the potential sources and the potential issues associated with overexposure to fluoride.
To add to the debate, many dentists are finding increased cavity rates now that many kids are drinking non-fluoridated bottled water instead of tap water, and similar rates have been seen with those that are on well water as opposed to a city-based water supplier where fluoride is added.
Perhaps unfluoridated water is the way to go and simply leave the fluoride in the toothpaste – after all, in small amounts it has been proven effective in fighting cavities. Perhaps not. Perhaps a smaller amount of fluoride should be legislated. Perhaps instead of more government regulation, people need to make themselves aware of the risks and benefits and make their own decisions instead of waiting for the government to make the decision for them.
Whenever research and findings come up that are contrary to the “status quo” that people have based their livelihoods on for years, there is always resistance. But, you as a patient have the right to choose what’s right for you and your family. Be an informed patient.
Sources: www.vitamins-nutrition.org, www.fluoridealert.org, www.nofluoride.com/Unicef_fluor.htm