Fluoride is a natural mineral that, when added to your oral care, strengthens your teeth and helps prevent cavities. For this reason, it's been considered a benefit to community water systems in countries like the U.S. for 70 years. Since the inception of community water fluoridation, though, the practice has been controversial. Is fluoride bad in any way?
Origins of Fluoride Controversy
In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan, started to add fluoride to its water supply – the first city in the world to do so. Soon afterward, other cities between the U.S. and Canada saw the benefits of fluoride and followed suit, reports the Canadian Dental Association.
Nevertheless, there are a few reasons the practice has been controversial. Some people believe fluoridation programs are too expensive, though the lifetime cost per person is less than a single dental filling, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Still others argue that the government should have no role in the population's dental health. Of course the alleged health risks of fluoride are another persistent source of controversy – here's what certain scientific studies have said about them.
Why It's Safe
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that both the safety and benefits of fluoride are well documented. There has never been any scientific evidence linking fluoride to adverse health effects. In fact, the evidence consistently shows that fluoride is safe and effective in the amounts your toothpaste and household tap would provide. Rest assured none of the following common concerns have real connections to fluoride:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Down syndrome
- Heart disease
- Low intelligence
- Renal (kidney) disorders
It's not just the CDC that upholds the merits of fluoride, though; according to the ADA, more than 125 organizations around the world also recognize its safety and value. These organizations include the ADA, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.
Fluoride is safe in appropriate doses, but like anything else, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. After decades of research, the main risk linked to fluoride overuse is dental fluorosis, a cosmetic condition that kids can develop if they're exposed to excessive fluoride when they're too young.
Affected children may have teeth with white spots or lines, and in severe cases, even brown or gray discoloration on their enamel. This condition often occurs when children swallow fluoride toothpaste, which is why it's important to supervise them while they're brushing to ensure they're spitting along the way.
How Fluoride Protects Teeth
Fluoride protects your mouth in a couple of different ways. First, it strengthens your teeth by helping the enamel remineralization process, wherein minerals like calcium are deposited back into your teeth. The addition of these minerals helps to keep your enamel strong and safe from decay. Second, fluoride helps to control the acid inside your mouth. Normally the bacteria on your teeth feed on sugars and produce acids that erode the surface, but fluoride keeps your mouth resilient to this common effect.
Brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush is an easy way to make sure you get the fluoride your enamel needs. As long as you have healthy teeth to begin with, the combination of fluoridated drinking water and fluoride toothpaste is sufficient for your daily routine. If your tap water isn't fluoridated, or if you drink bottled water that doesn't have its own, your dentist may recommend in-office fluoride treatments to make sure you're getting the protection you need.
Fluoride has been controversial since it's introduction, but is fluoride bad in observable ways? Fortunately, the answer is no. This naturally occurring mineral is a safe ingredient that can help keep your teeth strong and cavity-free. If you're concerned you're not getting enough fluoride, talk to your dentist to find out if a professional treatment is appropriate for you.