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Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. Headshot

Mouth Health: Fluoridated Water, Good or Bad?

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Let's talk about water fluoridation this week. And, being that I'm a dentist, you'll probably be a little surprised by my stance on it. At least in terms of it being included in water.

As you likely know, fluoride is a chemical that is commonly found in most toothpaste brands. People use fluoridated toothpaste as a means to strengthen teeth (i.e. prevent cavities) and normally don't think much further about it. Which is fine -- that's pretty much how it's marketed.

Since the late 1990s, the United States Food and Drug Administration has made it mandatory for toothpastes to carry a warning in regards to fluoride usage. But why would the FDA post a warning on a toothpaste ingredient? Doing research on what fluoride is reveals that the chemical is now considered a potential toxic drug, and ingesting enough of the ingredient could be harmful.

Now, I don't want to scare you -- brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste isn't harmful. Nor is a dentist using a gel-type fluoride treatment when you get your checkup. Uses like that are topical usages -- you don't ingest it. And even if you do ingest some toothpaste (etc), the levels of fluoride aren't going to pose any threat. And it does prevent cavities.

But in terms of it being added to water, I'm not so sure that's a good thing. Adding fluoride has been a standard in many countries for years. However, several countries (mainly Europe) have taken an active stance on banning fluoride from their drinking water. And I'm with them -- I do not see the good in fluoridating our drinking water. I definitely see the reasoning why countries would add it -- it helps prevent cavities. But as a dentist, I think cavity prevention can be done just as effectively without putting fluoride in our water. To me, the "bad" it can (potentially) do outweighs the good.

So what is the bad?

Well, I'll be the first to tell you that research is not all-encompassing. Since fluoride does prevent cavities, it's a popular chemical. However, studies have been done that seem to equate fluoride with weakened bones, primarily the hips . There is also a known condition called fluorosis, which occurs when a child gets too much fluoride when teeth are developing. Well, if there is fluoride in the water, wouldn't you come to the conclusion that this could contribute to "too much fluoride?" I would. Even more disturbing, there was a study done in China on children with fluorosis, and the findings were that children with the affliction had, in overall terms, lower IQ scores. These findings were echoed in an American study that came to the same findings using animals: The study concluded that fluoride would accumulate in specific areas of the brain, which then affected the ability to learn. This does not constitute irrefutable proof, but it does make one think.

In addition, recently, the National Kidney Foundation (NFK) withdrew its long-held support for fluoridated water. Now, they didn't radically reverse their opinion, they just went from endorsing it to having no opinion at all. That's a little telling.

However, in all of this, I do need to point out that I am in the minority, and there are plenty of studies that refute what I am saying here. In other words, my "side" of this is far from proven. But, in my years of being a dentist, I've found enough to make me feel that fluoride in the water just isn't worth it. Even if some research is scoffed at, the question itself is enough to make me pause. Especially because I do feel we have enough education on oral health that everyone should be brushing their teeth. And trust me, if you are brushing like you should be (and your dentist is using a topical treatment every so often), then I feel you don't need fluoride in your water. I'm not a fan of inserting a chemical into our water that most of us simply don't need to help the few that won't help themselves.

Ok, you say, "how can I remove fluoride from my water? Fluoride can be removed from a person's drinking water through various filtration methods. Reverse osmosis, distillation and alumina defluoridation can help to remove unnecessary impurities. Methods such as boiling or freezing water do nothing but concentrate the fluoride source, and should be avoided.

While uncovering the truth behind fluoride's origins can be a frightening concept, there is some discussion in regards to removing its presence from our water supply (like I said earlier, most of Europe has already done so). If this interests you, I urge you to do some research, draw your own conclusions, and then write your congressperson.

Until next time, keep smiling.