Look at your toothpaste tube. Chances are you will see the word “fluoride” along the side, either as an ingredient, or preceding the word “free.” Have you seen the TV show “Parks and Recreation?” You probably heard Leslie Knope rant about the benefits and safety of adding fluoride to the Pawnee water supply. If you’ve read any natural health blog, website, or magazine, you’ve seen the horror stories about how fluoride is destroying your body from the inside out. Such polarized opinions!
Fluoride is a word that is often used fairly generically to describe that mysterious “good for your teeth” substance in toothpaste and in our drinking water. There’s an ongoing, heated debate about the benefits of fluoride. On one end of the argument are those who state that fluoride is harmless, and beneficial for our oral health. On the other extreme are those who insist that fluoride is toxic and should never be consumed. And then a few people piping up to suggest that it’s actually a substance used for mind control! So what’s the truth? Who do you believe when presented with two compelling, radically opposite opinions (and one slightly crazy one)? There’s a lot of information out there, so let’s skip the opinions and, as always, turn to science.
Let’s start with the basics. Fluoride is a naturally occurring, negatively charged, inorganic ion - the simplest anion of the chemical element fluorine (F). Fluoride can be found in many minerals, such as fluorite. There are a variety of types of fluoride, but today we are going to talk primarily about Sodium Fluoride (NaF), Fluorosilicic acid (H2SiF6) (also known as hexafluorosilicic, hydrofluosilicic, and silicofluoride acid), and Calcium Fluoride (CaF2). Sodium Fluoride is what you find in your toothpaste. Fluorosilicate acid and Sodium Fluoride are what is used to fluoridate drinking water. Calcium Fluoride is primarily used to create hydrogen fluoride, and for special manufacturing.
Now that you have a basic idea of what fluoride is, we need to figure out why we are adding it into stuff. Let’s start with toothpaste. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel and remineralize tooth decay by increasing the growth of enamel crystals. Similarly, fluoride is added to some water supplies as an affordable way to help reduce tooth decay community wide. So why are people so worried? I mean, who doesn’t want healthy, beautiful, cavity-free teeth?
First off, let’s address a major claim by those who oppose the prolific use of fluoride: fluoride is toxic. This is a “shades of gray” situation. Let me explain. In March of 2014 the Lancet Medical Journal officially classified fluoride a neurotoxin! For my less medically-minded readers, a neurotoxin is any substance that is poisonous or destructive to nerve tissue. In fact, fluoride made its way onto a list including lead, mercury, and arsenic! However, all research I have been able to find suggests that fluoride is only toxic in extremely high doses. While said high doses are, well, high… they’re not so out of reach that there aren’t labels on the side of every tube of toothpaste with instructions to call your local poison control center if you swallow it! Fluoride is cumulative, meaning it builds up in your system over time, increasing the ease of reaching those unsafe levels as you consume it daily in relatively small “safe” amounts. And numerous studies have shown that the effects of over consuming fluoride are no small matter. They include brain damage, interfering with endocrine function, thyroid disorders, arthritis, reduced IQ, muscle disorders, dementia, ADHD, bone and muscle disorders, and more.
The next worthy point in regards to fluoride’s benefit to your teeth and oral health is the type of fluoride used. Sodium Fluoride is what you find in your toothpaste, but studies have shown that Calcium Fluoride is actually the variety that is much more beneficial to your oral health! But analysts suspect that it is the calcium, more than the fluoride, that is beneficial. Supporting this is the fact that the largest study ever, conducted by the National Institute of Dental Research, observed 39,000 children and found “virtually no difference in the incidence of tooth decay between children living in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas (remember, water fluoridation uses Sodium Fluoride and Fluorosilicic acid, not Calcium Fluoride).” Bonus points, several studies found that the rate of dental decay “does not increase when a community ceases fluoridation.” And in regard to fluoride in drinking water, regardless of the type of fluoride used, studies in major medical journals have recently shown that systemic fluoride (fluoride that is ingested instead of applied topically to the teeth) has almost no benefit to oral health. While many first world countries artificially fluoridate their water, few have as high a rate of fluoridation as the United States, which as of 2014 was over 74% of all drinking water nationwide (Connecticut, where this article is being written, was over 89%!). Communities in many countries such as Israel, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden have discontinued water fluoridation. One major reason for this change is the fact that only about 1% of water is used for drinking, while the other 99% is used for showering, flushing toilets, watering crops, industry, and so on, there is a notable environmental concern of adding industrial waste byproducts (Fluorosilicic acid) to water which very quickly ends up in rivers, streams, and eventually the oceans in much higher doses and a different composition than are naturally present . Additional concerns include the fact that when a whole communities water is fluoridated, individuals no longer have the opportunity to choose not to consume excess fluoride. With negative health effects of fluoride continuing to surface, this is becoming an even bigger global concern.
But back to the topic of the type of fluoride used, Calcium Fluoride is naturally occuring, found in soil and water, and is relatively safe. In fact, calcium is a natural antidote for fluoride poisoning! On the other hand, according to the CDC, Fluorosilicic acid is created as a byproduct during the phosphate fertilizer manufacturing process. Sodium Fluoride comes from Fluorosilicic acid. Another interesting thing to note is that fluoride production and use is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, not by the Food And Drug Administration, even though it is being put into drinking water and cosmetic products. In fact, to this day, fluoride is not FDA approved. It should be noted that Calcium Fluoride is significantly more expensive than any other form of fluoride. Experts suggest this is the reason that, even though it is more beneficial, it is not used in public water supplies.
After looking at the chemistry, scientific studies, medical journal reports, and fluoride’s effect on our bodies, and after touching lightly on the environmental concerns, I feel safe in concluding that, while some forms of fluoride (Calcium Fluoride)f may be safe in small doses, the health risks outweigh any potential benefit. This is compounded by the studies showing water fluoridation is next to useless in regard to oral health, and the fact that a non-beneficial form of fluoride is used in your toothpaste. It should be noted, that if you really search, you can find toothpaste with Calcium Fluoride, but I see little benefit over a quality fluoride-free toothpaste. But when you boil everything down, the only logical conclusion is that adding fluoride to our lives is not only essentially non-beneficial, but also very quickly becomes a major health concern. Fluoride-free is the way to be!
These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist and Dipl. Natural Health Consultant, and Reiki Master Teacher, and are for educational purposes only, and not intended to replace consultation with your qualified healthcare practitioner.