In January this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to reduce the levels of fluoride in drinking water. Given that the majority of fluoride in our water is only there because we have put it there, it begs the questions why is it added in the first place, why is there now a need to reduce it, and do we really need it at all?
Why We Have Fluoride in Drinking Water
Fluoride is a natural mineral that is essential for the formation of tooth and bone. It is abundant in the earth and can be picked up like any other mineral, as water flows through rocks and soil. During the 1940s, as the benefits of fluoride to teeth became apparent, The U.S. and many other countries began to add fluoride to drinking water in an attempt to reduce incidence of tooth decay.
In theory fluoride is able to reduce tooth decay as it prevents the function of a particular enzyme which promotes the formation of acid-producing bacteria in the mouth; one cause of dental cavities. However, advisors to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have provided studies which compare countries with fluoridated water and countries with non-fluoridated water, and have suggested that actually adding fluoride to drinking water has no real impact on dental health.
Why Do We Need to Reduce Fluoride in Water?
Before the HSS announcement, the recommended levels of fluoride in drinking water were between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams fluoride per liter. The new recommendations state that the maximum level should be 0.7 milligrams per liter.
The reasons for this reduction is that people in the U.S. now have a far greater exposure to fluoride than they did in the 1940s. In addition to water, fluoride is present in toothpastes, mouthwashes, supplements, tea, fish, fruits and vegetables. Although a certain amount of fluoride is essential for healthy teeth and bones, too much fluoride can lead to serious conditions, both in adults and children.
Two conditions that are known to be caused by excessive fluoride consumption are:
- Dental fluorosis usually occurs when children under the age of eight, who still have teeth forming in their gums, consume too much fluoride. Dental fluorosis creates white chalky spots in the tooth enamel and can eventually lead to pits in the teeth, blackened areas and permanent discoloration.
- Skeletal Fluorosis is an incurable and crippling condition that occurs when excessive fluoride consumption leads to the hardening or over calcification of joints and bones. Sadly the symptoms are often missed as they are similar to a number of other conditions (stiff joints, aches, and muscle weakness), and it is often misdiagnosed as arthritis.
Do We Need Fluoridated Water at All?
The changes in the water fluoridation regulations are due to conditions such as dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis, but there are many other problems caused by consuming too much fluoride. Excessive fluoride can also cause calcium to be removed from the inside of the teeth, leaving them prone to cavities. More worryingly it can inhibit the function of over sixty useful enzymes in the body, meaning that everyday bodily functions are slowed down, resulting in a general downturn in our overall health. Excessive fluoride has been shown to cause premature births and is suspected of causing hypothyroidism, particularly in women.
While the HHS recommendations are a step in the right direction, fluoridating drinking water at all still makes it easy for people to consume too much. A person’s absorption of fluoride depends on many factors including their nutritional status. A person low in Vitamin C will absorb a higher level of fluoride, and if calcium levels are also low they will store higher levels of fluoride. This means that a person with poor nutrition will still absorb higher levels of fluoride, despite the new recommendations.
There are plenty of other sources of natural fluoride, and eating a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as using supplements appropriate for our nutritional status, should be sufficient to give us all the fluoride we need for healthy teeth and bones, without adding it to our drinking water as well.