The Rumors, Facts, Health and Danger of Fluoride in Drinking Water
For many, fluoride is among the most confusing chemicals added to their drinking Water. Also naturally occurring in groundwater and soil, it is known to be very dangerous at high doses but beneficial at controlled, lower concentrations
Is there a reason to be worried about fluoride levels in your water? Potentially.
It all depends on the level of fluoride present in your specific drinking water supply, as well as what we learn from ongoing research on the health impacts of fluoride.
Misconceptions abound over both the role fluoride plays in our treated drinking water, as well as the potential adverse health effects from consuming too much fluoride. The following is a breakdown of what we know so far:
Note: When you hear people refer to fluoride and fluoride contamination, they’re actually referring to a group of fluoride-containing compounds.
The Practice of Water Fluoridation
Back in the 1940s, scientists observed that individuals consuming drinking water with fluoride concentrations of 1 part per million (ppm) or more had fewer dental cavities than those communities where naturally occurring fluoride was less than 1 ppm. Since the 1940s, numerous additional studies have backed up this finding.
Scientists subsequently discovered that fluoride works to mitigate bacteria-related production of acid in the mouth thanks to increased remineralization. Remineralization is the process tooth enamel undergoes when rebuilding itself following initial decay.
Consequent to these scientific findings, approximately two-thirds of the United States population has fluoridated drinking water, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fluoridation is administered by most Community Water Systems (CWS) around the country. Many of these water systems participate in the My Water’s Fluoride (MWF) program, which provides consumers in different regions with information on the fluoride levels in their water.
Known Benefits of Water Fluoridation
Today, water fluoridation in America puts fluoride levels in our water supply at 0.7 ppm (parts per million), in an effort to battle tooth decay.
The CDC reports that fluoridated water reduces tooth decay in both children and adults by roughly 25%. Water fluoridation is currently considered to be the most cost-effective manner to deliver fluoride on a community-wide basis—regardless of socioeconomic factors—and the practice is currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Public Health Service, American Dental Association, and the World Health Organization.
Potential Fluoride Risk: Fluorosis
While fluoride has its benefits, fluoride in water is only safe to a degree. Also, bear in mind: Even if you’re on a private well that lacks added fluoride, naturally occurring fluoride in variable levels may be present.
Dental fluorosis is a condition wherein the appearance of the teeth change, most often resulting in slight, white enamel blotches. Fluorosis occurs when children receive too much fluoride over an extended period of time. A severe consequence of long-term fluoride exposure at high levels is skeletal fluorosis, however, impacts of this condition remain unknown and understudied in the U.S..
The CDC notes that only children under the age of 8 are at risk of dental fluorosis, due to the formation of their permanent teeth during this period. Additionally, children are only considered at risk if the level of fluoride in drinking water exceeds 0.7 ppm (parts per million). Most cases of dental fluorosis in the United States are mild, with severe cases typically only occurring in those exposed to water featuring a fluoride level of greater than 2 milligrams per liter.
If a home water test reveals that your drinking water features a fluoride level greater than 2 milligrams per liter, the CDC recommends using an alternative source of drinking water. Also, for water already fluoridated to the prescribed 0.7 ppm (parts per million), the CDC recommends the discontinuance of fluoride drops and/or tablets.
One other fluorosis-related concern for young children is toothpaste. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that because toothpaste contains a higher concentration of fluoride than water, parents with children under the age of six should supervise toothbrushing to avoid their children from swallowing the paste.
Potential Fluoride Risk: Neurotoxicity
Neurotoxicity occurs when we’re exposed to natural or artificial substances to a degree that alters the typical activity of our nervous system, causing nervous tissue damage, which impairs the transmittal and processing of information within the brain and greater nervous system. Acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults.
It’s important to note this neurotoxicity in adults only occurs when fluoride exposure is particularly severe. A greater emerging question is: Can fluoride cause neurotoxicity in children, and at what levels?
Research into this subject has provided inconclusive results, as little remains certain regarding fluoride’s effect on children’s neurodevelopment. The National Institute of Health has reviewed a paper on this subject—Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis—which examines the potential for a link between fluoride exposure and delayed neurobehavioral development.
The paper found indications that high levels of fluoride present in water may adversely affect a child’s cognitive development, and that children in high-fluoride areas had “significantly lower IQ scores” than those from low-fluoride areas. The review covered 27 existing studies, but as the lead researcher, Anna L. Choi of Harvard, notes, the 27 studies reviewed were primarily from China and no human studies whatsoever have been conducted in the United States. This highlights the need for more domestic research.
A National Research Council 2006 report determined that high fluoride drinking water concentrations merit additional research to determine links to neurotoxicity. And for their part, Choi and her senior author, Philippe Grandjean, drew this conclusion:
“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain,” Grandjean says. “The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.” (Source: harvard.edu)
What You Can Do About Fluoride
If you want to know more about the fluoride levels in your drinking water, as well as what’s present in your water and what you can do about it, our Tap Score home water test can help.
Tap Score tests for fluoride in your drinking water, as well as more than 100 other contaminants. Results are comprehensive, are written in plain English, and arrive in less than two weeks.
SimpleWater: We Test, Therefore We Know.
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