Research into the cause of tooth decay is nothing new—it dates back over one hundred years to the early twentieth century. According to a report by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (“The Story of Fluoridation”, published by the National Institutes of Health), a study begun in 1901 culminated in the discovery that children in certain Colorado towns where the drinking water was tainted by high levels of fluoride had brown-stained teeth, referred to as “mottled enamel disorder”. These stains permanently affected children’s adult teeth. Research was expanded to include more towns experiencing dental problems, with the same result—fluoride was the culprit. The condition itself, called “fluorosis”, stems from overexposure to fluorides in children who are exposed up to eight years of age.
In later years it was determined that a certain amount of fluoride in drinking water could help prevent tooth decay, and the first trial of fluoridated water was conducted on the population of Grand Rapids, MI in 1945. While that trial showed a decrease in tooth decay, water was the only source of added fluorides. Today, however, fluoride enters our bodies from many more sources, including toothpaste, oral rinses, tooth gels and varnishes, processed foods and beverages (including bottled tea, beer, sodas, sports drinks, juice from concentrate, etc.), certain pesticides, Teflon pans, and some pharmaceuticals, among others. That’s a lot of fluoride.
It appears that early fluoridation studies did not look beyond fluoride’s effect on teeth; there’s no mention in the report of any early research on how fluoride can create other health issues. But the latest study of 400 pregnant women casts doubt on the safety of fluoridated drinking water, at least at its current levels — the results show that pregnant women who drank fluoridated tap water had children whose IQ is a bit lower than those whose mothers did not drink fluoridated water while pregnant. In addition, a daily increase of 1mg of fluoride intake was linked to IQ drops of approximately 3.7 points; to put that in perspective, fluoridated tap water contains about 1.2mg of fluoride per liter. This number can vary among communities with fluoridated tap water — the EPA’s maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water is as high as 4.0mg per liter.
According to the American Cancer Society, long-term exposure to high levels of fluoride can lead to fluorosis that not only affects tooth enamel, but can also cause skeletal fluorosis, which is a buildup of fluoride in the bones. Skeletal fluorosis can cause joint pain and stiffness as well as weak bones that may lead to fractures in older adults.
Ironically, the rate of fluorosis — the very thing that started investigations into fluoride back in 1901 — is on the increase. A 2019 report published by the Journal of Dental Research shows “large increases in fluorosis prevalence and severity”, the result of “too much fluoride ingestion during the early years of life.” The most recent government data shows that some degree of dental fluorosis is present in 65 percent of children in America. Depending on the severity, fluorosis appears as white spots or lines on teeth or as brown mottling, sometimes with pitting. Cosmetic dentistry can be used to cover these problems, but there is no “cure”.
The answer to minimizing your family’s intake of fluoride is to take a different look at the foods and drinks you consume as well as the products in your home in order to determine how much fluoride you’re ingesting. Extra fluoride can sneak into your family’s diet in ways you didn’t realize; for example, black and green teas are high in fluoride, especially if they’re made from older leaves or are grown in certain countries whose soil has a high fluoride content, such as China and India, among others. Add to that the amount of fluoride in the tap water you use to make your tea, and your fluoride consumption increases significantly. Herbal teas, on the other hand, have very little or no fluoride because they’re not made from tea leaves; bottled herbal teas may have fluoride if the company is using fluoridated tap water. Spring water has less fluoridation — the amount of fluoride depends on the source.
Foods processed with fluoridated water and especially processed foods containing mechanically deboned meat, like chicken nuggets and chicken fingers, contain higher levels of fluoride. Industrial workplaces can have high levels of airborne fluoride, and cooking or boiling water in Teflon-coated pots and pans can add fluoride to your food.
You can minimize the fluorides in your diet by avoiding processed foods and drinks and instead choosing fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, eggs, etc., all of which have very low amounts of naturally occurring fluorides. And by opting for organics, you’ll avoid fluoride pesticides along with other health risks associated with pesticide use.