Is Flouridated Water Safe?
Before we talk about the safety of fluoridated water, let’s take a closer look at what fluoride actually is.
Fluoride is a compound of fluorine, a naturally occurring element. As a pure gas, fluorine (F) is toxic; it can be extremely harmful to any living organism. In the natural world, fluorine exists only in compound forms, the like calcium fluoride (CaF2), which is found in both soil and water. Clean spring water from areas without industry typically contain a very small amount of naturally occurring calcium fluoride. Ingesting such small amounts of calcium fluoride is generally not a concern since the body doesn’t easily absorb or store it.
The fluoridation of water for the prevention of tooth decay, however, has always been a topic of concern and controversy since it began in Michigan in 1945. Those opposed to what is now a widespread, nation-wide practice have argued that the chemical may present a wide range of health risks that most notably include damage to the endocrine and nervous systems. A number of recent studies support these--and other--concerns. Two studies conducted in 2015, for example, have linked fluoridation to the increased incidence of ADHD and hypothyroidism. Others argue against water fluoridation on ethical grounds, saying the process forces people to consume a substance they may not know is there and may not even work.
The efficacy of fluoridated water as a cavity preventer has, in fact, not been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. While the use of fluoridated toothpastes, which contain synthetic sodium fluoride (NaF), have been shown to be safe and effective as an anti-cavity agent in oral care products, the use of fluoridated water may offer no benefits at all. In fact, drinking fluoride to prevent tooth decay is a lot like drinking sunscreen to prevent a sunburn.
In 2015, the Cochrane Collaboration, a group of doctors and researchers known for their rigorous, scientific reviews tracked down every fluoridation study they could find, critically examining each in order to select only the most comprehensive, well-designed, and reliable papers to study. Their review identified only three studies of sufficient quality since 1975 that addressed the effectiveness of fluoridation on tooth decay. All three determined that fluoridation does not reduce cavities to a statistically significant degree in permanent teeth. The authors also found only two studies since 1975 that looked at the effectiveness of reducing cavities in baby teeth, and found fluoridation to have no statistically significant impact here, either.
While finding fluoridated water in Europe is a rare, a full 75 percent of all U.S. drinking water is being treated with fluoride. Beyond the realms of ethics and efficacy, the health concerns related to this routine practice revolve more around the issue of transparency. Truth be told, 90 percent of the drinking water in the U.S. isn’t being treated with either calcium (naturally occurring) or sodium (synthetic) fluoride. It’s being treated with hydrofluorosilicic acid or HFS, once classified as a toxic, industrial waste.
In 2006, the National Research Council conducted a review entitled, Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards. Their research led them to a few conclusions about the safety of fluoride according to the data available at that time:
Athletes, outdoor workers, and those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes and poor kidney function are more sensitive to water’s fluoride content.
The amount of fluoride infants and children are exposed to on a daily basis is three to four times greater than the average adult based on body weight comparisons.
Effects on the endocrine system were noted but characterized as “subclinical.” The panel did, however, suggest further study given that the use of fluoride may impact the sexual development of children.
Is fluoridated water safe? It’s a question that certainly merits more attention than it can be given here. While the use of dental care products that contain fluoride offer some benefits, there are some valid concerns being expressed about the safety of fluoridated water. In addition to health concerns, some see an even larger issue: Does water fluoridation constitute a mass violation of the public’s right to make an informed choice—for or against—drinking a probable toxin that doesn’t offer definitively proven health benefits? Based on the available evidence, it may be wise to consider the purchase of a high-quality water filter and simply opting out.
What are your thoughts on the topic of fluoridated water? Do you drink tap or filtered water at home? What type of filtration system do you use? Please share in the comments section below.