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Is Fluoride Safe?

Doctor holding sign with the word FLUORIDE

Dentists insist it’s essential to prevent tooth decay. Other health experts claim it’s poison. What is it? Nothing other than the controversial mineral fluoride.

What do the facts show? Is fluoride good or bad for you?

The Facts on Fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral found all over the world. It’s in drinking water, seafood, tea, and ends up in foods prepared with water that contains fluoride. Over 100 national and international health organizations acknowledge the benefits of this mineral for dental health.

Why You Need Fluoride

Fluoride upgrades certain elements in tooth enamel and these blocks of new material are stronger than the original tooth. This makes the tooth more resistant to the effects of decay and acids. Fluoride facilitates the remineralizing process in teeth to encourage the uptake of other minerals such as calcium and phosphate. There’s also evidence that fluoride can inhibit the activity of bacteria that cause cavities.

It’s undeniable that fluoride plays a major role in reducing decay rates all over the world. Tooth decay is the primary cause of tooth loss in children so introducing fluoride into kids’ “dental diets” during crucial phases of tooth development can help them avoid cavities altogether.

You can get fluoride through toothpaste and rinses. Topical fluoride applications like these keep adult teeth healthy for life. Fluoride consumed in food and water (systemic) will fortify teeth in kids’ mouths before they even erupt out of the gums.

Fluoride is inexpensive and easy to use and it can reduce future dental care costs by preventing tooth decay. Additionally, fluoride contributes to improved oral health and thus promotes a healthier quality of life.

Dental professionals could go on all day about the benefits of fluoride. But is there a dark side to this mineral that you should know about?

The Dangers of Fluoride

Consuming a lot of fluoride at once is toxic. Ingesting too much can lead to gastrointestinal distress and muscle spasms and can require a trip to the emergency room.

There are some long-term effects of excess fluoride exposure, as well. These can include:

● Skeletal fluorosis ● Thyroid problems ● Potential neurological development problems for infants in utero

Such problems tend to be found in parts of the world where there are extremely high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in the local water.

The most common issue, however, is dental fluorosis. This happens when teeth that are still growing in the jawbones of kids are exposed to too much fluoride. The teeth are usually healthy, but they can form unsightly chalky white streaks and patches in their enamel.

Fluoride does have some risks, but it is still very safe to use. It all comes down to how much you’re exposed to and when.

Safe Fluoride Use

You’ll be relieved to hear that you won’t experience fluoride poisoning from fluoridated water. Toxicity only occurs in extremely high concentrations such as by consuming a fluoride-based product.

You can avoid such a dangerous incident by keeping fluoride products out of the reach of small children who may unwittingly eat them. And don’t worry - swallowing a little toothpaste on accident won’t be enough to cause poisoning.

Some children need supplements if they don’t have access to systemic fluoride in water sources. But you should never take or give out fluoride supplements without a dentist’s prescription.

Remember that when it comes to many other healthy and “safe” foods and substances it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The same is true of fluoride. It isn’t a cancerous toxin and there are no records of it causing any problems when it’s used as recommended. The dangers really lie in being exposed to too much fluoride over a long period of time.

So using a fluoridated toothpaste won’t make you sick, but having too much fluoride in your water could.

Here are a few official recommendations to keep in mind:

  • The World Health Organization states that fluoridated water levels should stay under 1.5 parts per million to remain safe

  • The Department of Health and Human Services recommends those water fluoride levels not exceed 0.7 parts per million

  • If you test your home’s water source and find levels measuring above 2 parts per million then you should contact the Environmental Protection Agency right away

Ultimately, the benefits of fluoride easily outweigh the risks which are very easy to minimize by following the direction of a medical professional.

Talk with Tacoma family dentist, Dr. Duke Bui, to find out more about safely meeting your family’s fluoride needs.

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