Fluoride in Drinking Water, Toothpaste, and Dental Treatments: Use It or Lose It?
What the Science Says About Fluoride
If you've ever wondered why you get fluoride treatments at the dentist and if fluoride that is added to drinking water is safe, then this article will answer all your questions. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. In the early 1900s, a pair of dentists discovered that fluoride helps prevent cavities and in 1945 cities started fluoridating their drinking water (6). Since then, fluoride has been added to toothpastes and mouthwashes, in addition to drinking water. Read on as we break down the science on the pros and cons of fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste, and more.
Here's Why You Should Use It
Cavities might just seem like little black holes in your teeth, but there's a lot more to them! Cavities form because of acid-producing bacteria in your mouth (1). The acid produced eats away at the minerals from the tooth's surface, causing little pockets of decay, or a cavity (1). Fluoride, with its natural antimicrobial properties, can help prevent cavities by rebuilding and strengthening the tooth's surface, or enamel (1). It also helps lower the pH of your mouth, which creates an environment where bacteria cannot generate as much cavity-producing acid and sugars (2).
However, not all fluoride treatments are created equal. A 2015 study that reviewed 107 studies found that there was not enough information to determine whether or not fluoride added to drinking water helps reduce cavities in children and adults (7). When it comes to topical treatments, one 2015 study showed that 90 percent of the individuals in the study treated with topical fluoride ended up with healthy teeth (5). Topical treatments are fluoride treatments that are applied to the tooth, such as toothpaste or dental treatments (5). Overall, science has shown that topical treatments of fluoride are much more effective than drinking fluoridated water.
Here's Why You Should Lose It
Fluoride may have some excellent properties, but it's not without its negatives. A well-studied effect of ingesting high-levels of fluoride is fluorosis (8). In general, fluorosis can show up in two forms, regular fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis (8). Regular fluorosis is not harmful to the body, but results in discoloration of children's teeth from ingesting too much fluoride during tooth-forming years (8). Skeletal fluorosis is a much more serious condition that results from many years of ingesting high-levels of fluoride (9). It leads to weaker bones, joint pain and stiffness and in some cases physical deformities (9).
New science is also indicating that long-term ingestion of fluoride can cause neurotoxicity, or basically, damage to the nervous system (3). Damage to the nervous system can happen in both adults and children (3). However, it can cause more damage in children as not only do their bodies absorb more fluoride than adults there is also a lot of brain and nervous system development that occurs in early years (3). Studies have shown that exposure to high-levels of fluoride, particularly in pregnant women, causes a decrease in IQ and can lead to ADHD or increased inattention in children (3, 4). However, there is some good news. Nervous system damage from fluoride seems to be dose-dependent. This means small amounts of fluoride causes much less, if any negative health effects, while larger amounts of fluoride causes more noticeable negative health effects (3).
While the science can be scary, the bottom line is that not all fluoride treatments are created equal. In general, health effects from fluoride seems to be dose-dependent. This means small amounts of fluoride causes much less, if any negative health effects, while larger amounts of fluoride causes more noticeable negative health effects (3) Despite these negative health effects, there is still definitely a benefit from using fluoride, particularly topical treatments, but there are serious questions about the benefits of fluoride in drinking water.