Fluoride safety is a question we get asked about regularly at Maylands Dental Centre. We’ve looked at the literature extensively and put together this blog to answer all your questions and relax your fears about this natural supplement.
What is fluoride and where is it found?
Fluoride is the ionic form of the element fluorine – the 13th most common element on the whole planet! Fluoride is mostly found in crystal form – fluorite, you’ve likely seen in crystal shops, it’s green and purple in colour.
Fluoride is also found dissolved in almost all natural water supplies around the world in various concentrations. It’s found in soil, plants and animals. Tea plants and root vegetables can concentrate fluoride.
Fluoride likes to bind to other ions to form a vast variety of chemicals and compounds that have many different functions. If fluoride had a personality it would be like everyone’s best friend, an ace negotiator that brings others together to work well for a purpose.
Fluoride is a natural ionic element that’s found in abundance throughout the world and easily combines with many other elements to form a wide range of substances with diverse applications.
Tap water and fluoride
Urban water supplies have fluoride added to mimic what’s found in nature. Low dose fluoride up to 100ppm is added to many of the world’s tap water supplies as a preventive dental health initiative.
Observations from the 1950s found that people in America who lived in areas that were naturally fluoridated to this level experienced less tooth decay than people who didn’t, regardless of diet or other mouth hygiene practices.
Plenty of large population studies in Australia and overseas have repeatedly shown that tooth decay and tooth loss rates in people living in areas with water fluoridation are significantly lower than for people who live in areas without water fluoridation.
People using fluoridated tap water have healthier smiles over their lifetime.
Is fluoride toxic to health?
The short answer is: it depends on the dose.
Low dose fluoride has been repeatedly shown to help with tissue formation of bone and functions like insulin regulation throughout the body, particularly in the presence of high sugar (glucose). Fluoride appears to have a metabolism promoter effect at low doses under 10mg/L day.
However consistently high doses of fluoride above 15mg/L day consumed over time can impair the correct functioning of hormones and processes involved in organ and tissue function in the body. A well known example of this is fluorosis – an alteration to the way calcified tissues like teeth and skeletal bone are formed, making them weaker and more prone to fracture.
Low dose fluoride found in tap water is safe to consume throughout life, including while pregnant. You would have to drink at least 8L of water or more a day to consume enough fluoride from tap water to be detrimental to health.
What about fluoride in toothpaste?
Fluoride in toothpaste is included in much higher concentrations than found in tap water, typically 500 -1000ppm (compared to water ~1ppm). So this is considered high-dose fluoride. Fluoride in toothpastes, varnishes and mouthrinses is strictly for topical application only for safety and effect.
Fluoride is included in oral care products specifically to help prevent dental decay while eating a diet that includes refined sugars and processed foods. Topically applied fluoride has a direct remineralisation effect on tooth structure, reversing the dissolving impact of plaque acids on teeth formed by plaque bacteria metabolising dietary sugars.
Young children and elderly people can often accidentally swallow products designed for topical use only, so it’s best to use a fluoride-free version for these people.
Fluoride in toothpaste and oral care products is safe to use topically only. It has demonstrated benefits for preventing tooth decay. Follow the directions and do not swallow!
Fluoride and IQ
There’s been plenty of scaremongering in the media about fluoride affecting intelligence or IQ. Some low quality studies from China and Canada have relied on self-reporting, included areas with naturally fluoridated water supplies that aren known for higher levels, and didn’t rule out other known causes of reduced IQ. This has created much confusion for many people!
A study in mice in 2014 published in the esteemed Lancet journal demonstrated fluoride was toxic to neurological tissues at concentrations greater than 2.5 times the recommended dose. This demonstrated the importance of following directions for use instructions for products containing fluoride.
In Australia 3 generations of children have been born to mothers who consumed fluoridated tap water throughout pregnancy. There is no evidence that Australian-born people who have consumed tap water throughout life have experienced any negative impact on their intelligence.
Intelligence is influenced by many factors, including diet, environment, birth process and genetics. Low-dose fluoride consumption has not been found to be detrimental to IQ and may in fact be protective against high sugar impacts on neurological function.