Fluoride in Drinking Water – Is It Safe?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found throughout the crust of the earth and is also widely distributed in nature. Some water supplies and plants such as tea have been found to naturally contain this mineral.

In NZ fluoride is added to tap water, a practice started after research in the 1930s found that people who had grown up in areas where water was naturally fluoridated had fewer cavities than those who were brought up in areas that had fluoride free water supplies.

How does fluoride prevent tooth decay?

According to scientists fluoride protects teeth in the following ways:

  • It protects from demineralisation. When sugar combines with the bacteria naturally found in your mouth, they produce an acidic substance. This acid erodes the enamel causing damage to teeth. Fluoride has been found to protect against this.
  • Fluoride has also been found to help in the repair of teeth that have already been damaged by acids. The mineral accumulates in demineralised areas resulting in a stronger enamel, a process referred to as remineralisation.

These are also the reasons why a lot of toothpastes contain fluoride.

Is it harmful to consume fluoride?

While it is widely accepted that small doses of fluoride can help strengthen teeth and bones, large doses can have detrimental effects. These include:

Dental fluorosis

Long-term exposure to large amounts of fluoride at a young age (during tooth development) can result in dental fluorosis. This is characterised by tiny white specks or streaks in the enamel in mild cases and very evident discoloration and brown markings in severe cases.

The greatest concern with fluorosis is the aesthetic changes which occur in the permanent teeth for children who have been exposed between the ages of 1 – 4 years. The risk goes away when the child reaches the age of 8.

Skeletal fluorosis

This is a bone disease caused by exposure to high concentrations of fluoride. In severe cases, the disease causes damage to the bones and joints and could cause pain. The high concentration of fluoride causes the bones to harden and become less elastic increasing the risk of fractures.

Skeletal fluorosis may also cause bones to thicken and bone tissue to accumulate which can impair joint mobility. In some cases, the condition might cause damage to the thyroid gland causing hyperparathyroidism – a condition that causes the production of parathyroid hormones to go out of control. This depletes the calcium in bone structures which weakens them and makes them more prone to fractures.

Lower IQ

Although not fully agreed upon, studies by Harvard scientists have also indicated that fluoride (similar to lead) could have adverse effects on neurodevelopment in children resulting in a lower IQ.

How do you remove fluoride from water?

Although removing fluoride at a commercial scale is quite expensive, there are cheaper options that you can use to purify your water and eliminate fluoride at home. These are:

  1. Water filters. Reverse osmosis filters, activated alumina filters, and deionizers can be used to remove fluoride in drinking water. These filters can remove about 90% of the fluoride in water making it safer for consumption.
  2. Water distillers. Water distillation provides one of the most effective ways of purifying water removing up to 99.9% of all impurities.

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