The US Centre for Disease Control declares that water fluoridation is one of the “top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century”. Yet, the merits of adding a fluoride compound to public drinking water supplies is hotly debated.

Fluoridation has been a controversial public health intervention since its introduction in the USA in the 1940s. 97% of countries in Europe have either banned fluoridation of public water supplies or never followed the lead of the USA to add fluoride to drinking water.

This article explains the health effects of fluoride in water, you’ll learn:

  • The Background on Water Fluoridation
  • The Benefits and Risks of Fluoride in Water
  • Solutions for Fluoridated Water
Woman smiling on the street

Background on Water Fluoridation

In the early 20th century, research led to the discovery that high levels of fluoride in drinking water causes dental fluorosis, also known as brown staining. Research proved that when public tap water had naturally high fluoride levels, the local population had significant brown staining of teeth. On the other hand, populations drinking tap water from a source with lower fluoride levels, had fewer cases of brown staining, or dental fluorosis. The research identified that fluoride up to 0.1ppm in water did not cause enamel to discolor.

Water flowing over rocks in a fast moving river

A secondary discovery of this research was that people with fluorosis (brown staining) had very few dental caries (cavities). It was this discovery that ultimately led to the practice of fluoridating the water supply with synthetic fluoride. A 15 year study, sponsored by the US Surgeon General and then taken over by the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR), studied 30,000 school children in Grand Rapids, Michigan and found that dental caries dropped 60% as a result of water fluoridation. Fluoridation of drinking water was then expanded to many states and continues in the USA today as one of the main ways to prevent dental caries.

Risks and Benefits of Fluoridated Water

In this section, we’ve outlined the risks and benefits of consuming water with fluoride:

Risks Benefits

Dental fluorosis

Reduces tooth decay

Skeletal fluorosis

Protects against cavities

Thyroid problems

Saves money on dental treatment

Neurological problems

-

Higher risk of some cancers

-

Acne

-

High blood pressure

-

Bone and joint issues

-

While fluoride has benefits in terms of reduction of cavities, the practice of fluoridating the public water supply must be questioned. The benefits of fluoride comes from its topical application onto teeth and with advancements in topical fluoride treatments, ingesting fluoridated water is a very inefficient way to deliver fluoride. While fluoridated water does save money on dental treatment, it poses a significant health risk.

The fact that fluoride is classified as a pollutant indicates that we should be wary of its effects on our health. A key issue surrounding water fluoridation is that there is no way to control the daily dosage of ingestion. This puts populations at serious risk, since too much fluoride increases the risk of dental fluorosis (brown staining). In fact, since the 1980s, studies have shown that many adults and children are exceeding the supposed “safe” level of fluoride ingestion, and therefore, contributing to an increase in dental fluorosis - a sign of fluoride toxicity. Dental fluorosis is one, of many risks, associated with ingesting fluoridated water.

Here are some key points to consider about the consumption of fluoridated water:

Water flowing from kitchen tap into the sink
  • May cause cancer: many studies conclude that there is “inadequate” evidence linking fluoride consumption with cancer. However, several studies strongly suggest that chronic fluoride ingestion may cause uterine and bladder cancer. Research indicates that there also may be a link between fluoride ingestion and osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

  • Risk of thyroid problems: studies have shown that ingestion of fluoridated water may impair thyroid function. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels may increase due to chronic fluoride ingesting, leading to reduced thyroid function or hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism can impact your metabolism, may lead to lethargy and lower energy levels, and could lead to weight gain.
  • Risk of skeletal fluorosis: Fluoride is a cumulative toxin and over many years of exposure, this can result in pain and damage to bones and joints, ultimately leading to a bone disease known as skeletal fluorosis. The bones may become hardened and less elastic, increasing the risk of fractures. Furthermore, bones may thicken and bone tissue may accumulate, which can contribute to impaired joint mobility

  • May cause neurological problems: In 2017, a report was published suggesting that exposure to fluoride before birth could lead to poorer cognitive outcomes in the future. The researchers measured fluoride levels in 299 women during pregnancy and in their children. They tested cognitive ability at the ages of 4 years and between 6 and 12 years. Higher levels of fluoride exposure were associated with lower scores on IQ tests. Fluoride is documented as a neurotoxin that could be hazardous to child development.

  • Other health problems: According to the International Association of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), an organization that campaigns against the use of added fluoride in water, this chemical may also contribute to the following health problems:
    • Acne and other skin problems
    • Cardiovascular problems, including arteriosclerosis and arterial calcification, high blood pressure, myocardial damage, cardiac insufficiency, and heart failure
    • Reproductive issues, such as lower fertility and early puberty in girls
    • Thyroid dysfunction
    • Conditions affecting the joints and bones, such as osteoarthritis, bone cancer, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
    • Neurological problems, possibly leading to ADHD

Solutions for Fluoridated Water

In conclusion, one must examine the potential health risks associated with ingesting fluoridated water versus the controversial benefits in regard to tooth decay in order to make an informed decision about fluoride and overall health.

The first step is to get informed: your public water supplier is required to publish drinking water statistics including the amount of fluoride that is put in your public drinking water. Not all regions artificially fluoridate the water supply but fluoride may be a natural element in your local water.

woman drinking water in the kitchen beside her Gravity Water System

If your water has fluoride and you’d like to reduce your exposure, find a water filter that gets rid of fluoride. Many ordinary filters don’t filter fluoride, so be sure to check the list of contaminants it filters before you purchase. The Santevia Gravity Water System filters up to 98% of fluoride, protecting you from the health risks associated with chronic fluoride ingestion.

A woman pouring water from her Gravity Water System in the kitchen