What’s the Deal with Fluoride?

By Sara Butler

Fluoride is commonly found in toothpaste and is also added to public drinking water as a way to improve the dental health of the public. It has become a chemical responsible for a lot of discussions recently. Do people need fluoride and is there any harm if you have too much of it? Here’s what you need to know about fluoride to determine if it’s safe for you.

Fluoride: What is it?

Fluoride is found in nature in small amounts in everything from fresh water to seawater to air, plants, and soil. It helps to keep your bones and your teeth strong and healthy since it is mostly stored in your bones and teeth. It has been found to prevent cavities, which is why you find it in toothpaste and in community water supplies.

You can either ingest fluoride or apply it to your teeth directly. In the United States, fluoride is found in water, it occurs naturally in groundwater and even foods you eat since it is absorbed from the soil.

Can You Have Too Much?

If you have too much fluoride over time it can cause something called fluorosis, and two types of fluorosis exist, Dental and skeletal.

In dental fluorosis, the appearance of your teeth may change. You might develop small white spots on your teeth, but in severe cases, it can cause brown stains and can even weaken teeth. It can only occur as teeth are being formed as a child, usually under the age of 2. So, if a child gets too much fluoride at a certain point in their development, it puts them at risk for dental fluorosis.

In skeletal fluorosis, fluoride accumulates in bones over a period of several years. In the beginning, symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Altered bone structure
  • Calcification of ligaments

The last two are seen only in advanced cases and are mostly seen in countries such as China and India due to the naturally occurring fluoride found in the groundwater people drink. This isn’t something that people in places such as the United States need to be concerned with since fluoride levels in public drinking water are very tightly controlled to keep it safe.

In the End

Just as with any other nutrient, fluoride is safe and effective if it is consumed and used in proper amounts. Large quantities can be harmful, but even water can be harmful if too much is ingested at once. 

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