What is it?
An ionic compound derived from the element fluorine, fluoride exists in many forms, both natural and synthetic. It's the synthetic, industrial versions like sodium fluoride and fluorosilicic acid that are added to the water supply in some areas to prevent tooth decay—a measure that has caused controversy for decades.
Ingesting too much fluoride, whether from natural or synthetic sources, can have a wide range of detrimental effects on health.
Where can you find it?
According to the Fluoride Action Network (fluoridealert.org), most western European countries do not fluoridate their water supplies. But in the US, there are more people drinking artificially fluoridated water than all other countries combined—more than 70 percent of the water supplies are fluoridated. In the UK, around 10 percent of the population has fluoridated tap water. Other sources of fluoride in the home include toothpaste and other dental care products—usually as sodium fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate—pesticides, processed food and drinks, Teflon-coated non-stick pans and certain medications such as the antibiotic ciprofloxacin and the heart drug flecainide. Tea, especially varieties made with lower-quality older leaves, can contain high levels of fluoride as tea plants readily absorb fluoride from soil.
What's wrong with it?
Fluoride is toxic (which is why you'll find a poison warning on every box of fluoride-containing toothpaste sold in the US), and excessive intake of the chemical is known to cause dental fluorosis (discoloration of the teeth) and skeletal fluorosis (a debilitating bone disease). It's also been linked to lowered IQ,1 ADHD,2 hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid),3 bone fractures4 and bone cancer5—even, in some studies, at relatively low levels of exposure.
Children are especially at risk from fluoride, even if they're not drinking fluoridated water. Research shows that children ingest a significant amount of fluoride each day from toothpaste alone,6 probably because many don't spit or rinse after brushing.7 In fact, some 30,000 calls to US poison control centers are made each year about acute fluoride poisoning in children, usually from ingesting too much toothpaste.8 Effects range from temporary stomach symptoms to serious health problems and even (rarely) death.9
Check your water supply
Find out if your tap water is artificially fluoridated by contacting your local water company. If it is, install a water filtration system, such as a reverse osmosis system, that filters out fluoride. Pure Water Freedom (www.purewaterfreedom.com) offers a number of different fluoride filters from water pitchers to under-sink systems.
Choose fluoride-free toothpaste
. . . and mouthwash and other dental products. Check labels carefully, as many brands sold in health-food stores still contain fluoride.
Does fluoride prevent tooth decay?
Fluoridated water is often heralded as the reason the US has seen a large decline in tooth decay over the last 60 years. However, the same decline has been seen in all developed countries—and most have never added fluoride to their water supplies.1
Indeed, it's now widely accepted that fluoride's main benefit comes from topical contact with the teeth (i.e. from toothpaste) rather than from ingestion (via water or tablets).2 Still, with all the risks of fluoride and the many natural dental care options now available (see box below for our top brands), it may be best to avoid it altogether.
Fluoride-free dental care
Try these brands for fluoride-free toothpastes and other dental products that promote healthy teeth and gums with natural ingredients instead.
• Green People
• The Natural
• North American Herb & Spice
• Nature's Answer
• Jack N' Jill Kids
Eat organic produce when you can to avoid fluoride from pesticides and fertilizers. And avoid processed food and drinks, which are more likely to contain fluoride from the manufacturing processes. Eating a good diet low in sugary foods will also help to keep your teeth healthy naturally.
Try not to drink too much tea
Especially watch out for bottled and instant varieties. If you're a tea lover, choose good-quality brands made with young leaves such as white tea, which is low in fluoride and high in health-boosting antioxidants.
Check your medication
Find out if you are taking any fluorinated pharmaceuticals. If you are, ask your doctor if there's a safer alternative.
Avoid cooking with Teflon-coated pans. Try stainless steel instead.