Dental issues in the later half of the 20th century in America were a serious issue. Upwards of 90% of those aged 12-17 during the 1960s had at least 1 cavity in a permanent tooth. Adults fared much worse with 18 affected teeth during that same period. The United States first added fluoride in water during the 1940s in Michigan. By the 1960s more than 50 million people were part of the water fluoridation program. When we look at news about water contamination affecting whole communities, the idea that we are intentionally putting chemicals in water can sound nefarious.
Except the concept isn’t all that strange. Fluoride is a naturally occurring element found in seawater, fresh water, and our food. Brewed teas, for example, can have 10 times more fluoride than a raw tomato which is already higher than many other products.
The American Dental Association writes: “dental decay is the most common chronic childhood disease with more than 16 million children suffering from untreated tooth decay in the U.S, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Oral disease causes children to miss 51 million school hours and their parents to lose 25 million work hours annually. Additionally, oral disease disproportionately affects children from low-income families and these children have almost twice the number of decayed teeth that have not been treated by a dentist as compared to others in the general population.”
How Fluoride Has Helped and Hurt
The use of fluoride in water is reported to have resulted in the reduction of average dental cavities from 6.2 to 2.6 in children, and 18 to 10 in adults between the 1960s and the early 2000s. With that knowledge in mind, why have we seen images of people with spotted or brown teeth that is the direct result of fluoride consumption?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported the effects of fluoride ingestion in a study, finding that “developing teeth can result in a range of visually detectable changes in the tooth enamel called dental fluorosis.” Adding, “the period of possible risk for fluorosis in the permanent teeth (excluding the third molars) extends from birth through 8 years of age when the pre-eruptive maturation of tooth enamel is complete. The risk for and severity of dental fluorosis depends on the amount, timing, frequency, and duration of the exposure.”
Further studies showed that cases of dental fluorosis increased after 1980s. From 1999 to 2004, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 23% of people that responded had mild dental fluorisis, 2% of cases were moderate, and fewer than 1% were severe.
Reigning in Excessive Fluoride Consumption
When the first water systems put fluoride in water, concentrations ranged from 0.8 to 1.2 mg/L. In 2010, the CDC recommended fluoride concentration be reduced to 0.7 mg/L to combat the increase in fluorosis. The rise in fluoride consumption is considered to be the result of improved dental care. Products like toothpaste and mouthwash used to improve the health of teeth that contain higher fluoride levels are generally safe because people are meant to spit and rinse their mouths with fresh water, instead of swallowing.
There are recommended limits in place to product our health. The EPA states that we should not be exposed to more than 4.0 mg/L of fluoride a day. While the World Health Organization considers moderate-level chronic exposure as anything above 1.5 mg/litre.
“Chronic high-level exposure to fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis. In skeletal fluorosis, fluoride accumulates in the bone progressively over many years. The early symptoms of skeletal fluorosis, include stiffness and pain in the joints. In severe cases, the bone structure may change and ligaments may calcify, with resulting impairment of muscles and pain. Acute high-level exposure to fluoride causes immediate effects of abdominal pain, excessive saliva, nausea and vomiting. Seizures and muscle spasms may also occur.”
The WHO concludes that “the prevalence of dental and skeletal fluorosis is not entirely clear. It is believed that fluorosis affects millions of people around the world, but as regards dental fluorosis the very mild or mild forms are the most frequent.”
Around the world, roughly 372 million people receive artificially-fluoridated water across 24 countries. Another 57.4 million consume ‘optimal levels’ of fluoride from naturally occurring sources. Arguments for and against water fluoridation continues with many left to question its actual benefits given how good modern dental care has become. While early beliefs might have held that fluoride was a communist plot, studies continue to examine possible health and safety issues with no clear consensus between preventing tooth decay and toxic effects that cause fluorosis in teeth and bones.
Can I Reduce my Fluoride Consumption?
Yes! Specialized water filtration system are designed to reduce fluoride levels in your drinking water. If you are interested take a look at our selection of ceramic water filters or contact us to see how we can help meet your water filtration needs!