With a trend toward better health on the rise in the U.S, the topic of fluoride often makes the news. Although some natural health advocates have concerns about fluoride safety, many dentists continue to advocate its use for reducing cavities. Learning more about fluoride dangers and whether or not they are real can help people make healthier choices for themselves and their families.
Fluorine is a natural gas that can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Combining fluorine with sodium makes sodium fluoride, the type of fluoride found in dental products, some foods, and drinking water in some communities. Like any chemical, fluoride poses a health risk if people ingest too much of it.
Because it accumulates in plants and animals (including humans), fluoride can cause bones to become brittle and increase risks for skeletal damage if ingested in large amounts. Skeletal fluorosis can change the structure of bones and cause limbs to bend. It can calcify ligaments and result in stiff, painful muscles. Extremely high amounts of fluoride can affect reproductive organs and fertility.
While these are real fluoride dangers, very small amounts of the chemical have been proven to prevent cavities and tooth decay if used correctly. Fluoride works to protect teeth by replacing lost minerals in tooth enamel and reducing the ability of bacteria to make acid.
The Debate over Fluoridation
The mandatory fluoridation of public water supplies has caused a great deal of debate over the last few decades. While many studies show that small amounts of fluoride added to water can reduce cavities, others show that moderate amounts of fluoride in early childhood can lead to enamel fluorosis, a condition which causes teeth to become stained and pitted.
Because of this, health professionals recommend that children under two years of age should not be exposed to fluoride when teeth are cleaned, and children from two to six should use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste when brushing teeth.
Due to mandatory fluoridation of many public water supplies, many grocery products like juices, sports drinks, sodas, beer, tea drinks, and even infant foods contain fluoride. With more and more products containing fluoride, many people — particularly parents of young children — worry that fluoridated water might raise risks for over-exposure to the chemical.
Fluoride and Cancer
According to the CDC and the American Cancer Society, the majority of studies show no link between cancer and fluoride. However, a study in 1990 found that male rats exposed to fluoridated water showed a higher incidence for a certain type of bone cancer.
While the American Dental Association, World Health Organization, and other groups recommend the regular use of fluoride for improving dental health, fluoridating public water still remains a hot topic for debate. Fortunately, regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice per day is enough to keep tooth decay and cavities at bay. Remember, children under two years of age should not be exposed to fluoride toothpaste, and kids from two through six years of age should use only a pea-sized amount when brushing and spit toothpaste out when finished.