There is a lot about fluoride that can confuse you. Recent research highlights that tamarind, a bitter and sour fruit, can help eliminate fluoride deposits from the bones. At the same time, it is common knowledge that fluoride is present in municipal water. In other words, we are all exposed to it.
This begs the question, why is fluoride present in water at the first place? What’s more, how risky is exposure to the mineral? Let’s walk you through an in-depth guide into the fluoride matters:
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present in the food, water, and soil. On top of that, it is synthetically produced and added to tooth pastes, mouthwashes, drinking water, and so on. Authorities explain that they add fluoride to the drinking water because it is proven to help lessen tooth decay.
This process in which fluoride is added to drinking water is called as fluoridation. Studies agree that fluoride can help take down the prevalence of tooth decay in the local population. Tooth decay is a common health concern that affects children.
On a global scale, not everyone can afford dental checkups and treatments regularly. Consequently, adding fluoride to drinking water can help save costs and benefit everyone. In recent times, however, the health concerns of fluoride’s health have emerged.
These include problems in the teeth, bones, as well as neurological development among other things.
How is fluoride used?
In addition to its presence in drinking water, fluoride is frequently used in dentistry. It is used in the enamel, which is the outer coat of a tooth. Besides, fluoride is present in over the counter products.
These include mouth rinses, supplements, and toothpaste. If you get multiple cavities, your dentist may give you a prescription mouth rinse that consists of fluoride. Fluoride is also present in medical imaging scans, for example, PET scans.
It is also used as a cleaning agent and in pesticides. The mineral is also used in the making of aluminum, steel, and Teflon.
How is fluoride beneficial in promoting dental health?
The chief reason for adding fluoride to drinking water is preserving tooth decay and improving dental health. The process of bacterial action on your tooth is simple.
To begin with, bacteria enter your mouth via the consumption of carbs and sugars. Then they produce acids that eat at the minerals present in the tooth enamel. This process in which minerals are lost from the outer layer of the tooth (enamel) is known as demineralization.
Demineralization equates with a weak tooth enamel, which makes your teeth vulnerable to bacteria that, in turn, cause cavities. Fluoride assists in remineralizing the tooth enamel. This is can help keep cavities at bay. Plus, it can reverse early tooth decay signs.
Therefore, in sum, fluoride can help with the following pointers:
- Build the weakened tooth enamel
- Slows the loss of minerals from the tooth
- Reverses early signs of tooth decay
- Keeps the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth at bay
There is evidence that backs the effectiveness of the mineral. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the average number of decaying or missing teeth in children aged 12 in the US has dropped by 68% from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.
These changes have occurred due to the introduction and expansion of fluoridated water in communities. Additionally, the use of fluoride in tooth pastes and other dental products also surged during this period.
The health risks posed by fluoride
Despite the dental merits of the mineral, fluoride leaves negative effects on the health as well. About 200 million Americans are exposed to the mineral via the municipal water supply. Plus, Fluoride Action Network outlines that over half of the children get more than the recommended intake of fluoride due to its presence in the toothpaste.
This over-exposure to the mineral yields negative health effects including:
1. Dental fluorosis
This occurs among children who consume too much fluoride while their teeth are still developing under the gums. This results in white spots on the teeth’s surface. Other than the appearance of white spots, dental fluorosis does not show any harm or symptoms.
The risk of dental fluorosis increases as children are more likely to swallow toothpaste. Toothpaste contains high fluoride content than fluoridated water. Thus, one way to reduce the risk of this dental concern among kids is to supervise them while brushing. This ensures that they don’t swallow the toothpaste.
2. Skeletal fluorosis
Skeletal fluorosis is similar to dental fluorosis. However, it involves your bones instead of teeth. Early symptoms of the concern include stiffness and joint pain. Over time, fluoride can alter the bone structure and result in the calcification of ligaments.
Skeletal fluorosis occurs due to long-term exposure to fluoride, mainly from drinking water. An excessive fluoride content in the water can occur for a number of reasons. For instance, an accidental contamination of water with the mineral due to explosions and fires.
3. Neurological problems
Exposure to fluoride is linked with neurological problems as well. In 2017, a report outline that the exposure to the mineral before a child’s birth could culminate in poorer cognitive outcomes later on.
In the study, the investigators measured that fluoride levels among 299 women during their pregnancy. The levels were measured again when the children were between the age range of 6 to 12 years. The kids’ cognitive ability was tested at the age of 4 as well between 6-12 years. The results showed that the higher levels of fluoride were linked with lower IQ test scores.
4. Thyroid problems
Excess fluoride can also damage the parathyroid gland. This can reach a finale of hyperparathyroidism that related to the uncontrolled release of parathyroid hormones. Consequently, you can become a victim of calcium depletion in bone structures as well as high calcium levels in the blood.
These low calcium concentrations in the bones can make them more vulnerable to fractures.
5. Other health problems
Over-exposure to fluoride can also lead to other health problems such as:
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Reproductive concerns such as lower fertility
- Cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, heart failure, myocardial damage, arterial calcification, arteriosclerosis, and cardiac insufficiency
- Skin problems including acne
- Bones problems including bone cancer, osteoarthritis, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
Acute exposure to the mineral can also culminate in fluoride poisoning. This can show symptoms such as excessive saliva, vomiting and nausea, abdominal pain, muscle spasms, and seizures.
Most cities in the US use a safe amount of the mineral in the drinking water. If you are concerned about the presence of fluoride though, then you can always ask your local government about the amount of fluoride present in your water.
On the flip side, if your drinking water does not contain the mineral but you want to avail its dental benefits than you can always use a fluoride-containing toothpaste and brush your teeth twice with it. Make sure you or someone else is not swallowing the toothpaste though. Moreover, you can use a fluoride mouthwash once daily. This is not recommended for children under the age of 6 though. If need be, get a professional dental treatment.