Life is all about balance. Getting too much — or too little — of something can be an issue. Fluoride is an excellent example of the importance of balance.
Because it has been so effective at reducing the number of cavities in the general population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named fluoride one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. But if a person takes in too much of the mineral, they may be susceptible to fluoride dangers.
Where Do You Find Fluoride?
Fluoride is an element naturally found in the Earth's crust, atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. A review published in the Journal of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina noted that it's the 13th most abundant terrestrial element. Volcanic rocks, seawater and tea plants tend to have relatively high concentrations of fluoride.
According to the Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute, the average adult body has about 2.6 grams of fluoride, with the vast majority of the mineral located in the bones and teeth. Sources of fluoride include water, tea, toothpaste and some foods like chicken, fish and rice. Foods that contain fluoride usually contain a very low concentration of it. The amount of fluoride found in water varies, although it is often added to community water supplies at a concentration of 0.7 milligrams per liter based on the U.S. Public Health Service recommendation.
Fluoride supplements are often available by prescription for children younger than 16 who don't have access to fluoridated drinking water. In the U.S., children also often receive fluoride treatments at their dentist's office while their teeth are developing.
Why all the fuss about fluoride? As the American Dental Association notes, fluoride is often called "nature's cavity fighter." As the teeth develop, fluoride from water, food or supplements helps build strong tooth enamel, which is better able to resist decay. After the teeth have erupted, fluoride helps rebuild enamel and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth decay.
Because of these proven benefits, most dentists recommend toothpastes that include fluoride.
The mineral is safe and effective against cavities, but you should be aware of the risks of fluoride consumption. Most of these concerns stem from taking in too much of the mineral, particularly at a young age.
Children who consume a high concentration of fluoride while their teeth are developing — either by swallowing fluoridated toothpaste or taking too many fluoride supplements — are at risk of dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is a cosmetic issue that causes streaks, spots or pits to develop on the surfaces of the teeth. It won't have a negative impact on your child's dental health, although the streaks and spots are permanent.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, skeletal fluorosis can develop in the bones if a person takes in too much fluoride. This rare condition may make the bones brittle and lead to pain. It usually only occurs if a person consumes quantities of fluoride that are significantly higher than average, such as by drinking a pitcher of tea made with over 100 tea bags daily.
Unless you plan on drinking gallons of tea or swallowing ample amounts of toothpaste or fluoride supplements, it's unlikely you'll consume too much fluoride as an adult. If you're concerned about your kids getting too much of the mineral, talk to your dentist about ways to limit fluoride exposure. You might consider supervising your kids when they brush their teeth to ensure they don't use too much toothpaste or swallow it. Consult your dentist if you're concerned about fluoride dangers or any other oral health issues.