Fluoride has been added to the drinking water in the United States for over 60 years. This procedure began as a way to protect the population’s teeth from decaying. When a person uses a fluoridated product the fluoride atoms replace a softer chemical in a person’s enamel, making the resulting enamel almost twice as strong. However, recently, there have been a number of reports claiming that fluoride is not only ineffective at preventing tooth decay and cavities, but also harmful to the rest of the body. So what do the experts say?
The case for fluoride: The American Dental Association (ADA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), all support the fluoridation of drinking water. They cite studies that show dramatic reductions in the amount of tooth decay among communities that began to drink fluoridated water. When the U.S. first started using fluoride, they saw a 60% drop in tooth decay among children over the next 15 years. More recent studies, however, have shown smaller level of tooth decay prevention, ranging from 20% to 40%. This is attributed to a number of different factors, but the main one cited is that fluoride is now added to so many different products that the effects from the fluoride in drinking water have been diminished.
The case against fluoride: While there have been a number of studies that show fluoride is preventing cavities, there have also been a number of studies that show it does nothing. Proponents against fluoridation point out that when countries like Finland and Germany stopped fluoridating their water, the percentage of people with tooth decay did not increase. They also point out that drinking the fluoride is unnecessary and potentially harmful. The best way to apply fluoride to your teeth is to brush it on and then spit it out. When a person drinks it, their enamel is not able to absorb as much as when it is brushed on.
So what is the take-away? Fluoride undoubtedly makes the enamel in your teeth stronger. The science supporting that assertion is sound and has been proven. What is less clear is if that really helps people avoid cavities, and if so how many people. Further, more studies are needed to find out how fluoride affects the body when it is ingested. There have been a few studies that show that while it does make bones harder, it also makes them more brittle and thus more likely to break. However, there is simply not enough scientific information to support the claims that fluoride is unhealthy to consume in the amounts that are present in drinking water. In fact, in 2010 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took an in depth look at the recommended fluoride levels in drinking water and made some changes. By factoring in new information they were able to get a better assessment of how much fluoride a normal person is consuming and they changed their recommendation from .7 – 1.2 milligrams per liter to a flat .7 milligrams per liter of drinking water. So it appears that the government is taking into account the extra sources of fluoride that the average person today is consuming, and adjusting accordingly.
Dr. Mike Malone and his team practice expert cosmetic dentistry in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Malone is the former president and current accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also the official Cosmetic Dentist of the Miss Louisiana USA and Miss Louisiana Teen USA pageants. Check out his website for more information.