In the era of fake news and health scares it can be difficult to know whom to trust. A persistent health concern of the last decade has been the common practice of adding fluoride to our tap water, and whether or not this can have an adverse impact on you and your family. As a huge part of this decision on behalf of many governments was to help boost oral health and reduce cavities, Vitality, as a responsible dental practice, are in a unique position to help you get all the facts you need to make an informed decision. Here’s what you need to know about fluoride in your water.
Let’s cut to the chase: is fluoride in your drinking water safe?
The great news for the UK is that a landmark study from the National Toxicology Program in the US, where 80% of tap water has been fluoridated for decades, has concluded after years of research that fluoridated water has no link to cognitive learning deficits or any other adverse health effects. This is why the Oral Health Foundation are pushing for wide-spread fluoridation of drinking water, in the hopes of curbing bad oral health in the British population.
Why is fluoride useful in water?
Fluoride is actually a naturally occurring mineral, although you probably know it better as part of your toothpaste. Fluoride works within the enamel of the tooth, strengthening it and making it more resistant to tooth decay. It’s actually found naturally in many different foods and has a presence in all natural water sources too. These levels are generally too low naturally, however, to have a significant positive effect on your oral health. Its addition to toothpaste and drinking water significantly boosts this property, and the introduction of fluoride to toothpaste has caused a revolution in oral health.
Adding fluoride to tap water helps protect and strengthen the tooth enamel of everyone who drinks it against tooth decay, as well as reducing the acid which bacteria on the teeth produce- the primary cause of cavities. The effect of water fluoridation has been measured and researched for 7 decades, and is proven to reduce tooth decay by at least 40%, which can be as much as 60% depending on other factors. This would be of particular benefit to those in lower socioeconomic classes, where access to dentists and other positive oral health treatments are sometimes delayed or at risk.
Why does tooth decay matter? It’s just teeth, right?
Wrong! Poor oral health has actually been linked to early death, taking as much as 3-7 years off of your anticipated lifespan. More immediately, tooth decay is the number 1 reason children in England are admitted for surgical procedures in hospital- with over 43,000 children in the last year alone. All the risk of anaesthetics and major procedures, for a completely preventable disease!
Where did concerns about fluoride in water come from?
People throughout time have had a- sometimes well-warranted- suspicion of large government tampering in anything that constitutes a basic right, which access to safe, clean water certainly is. This is certainly an understandable position to take, but it is important to note that globally, independent scientific organisations recommend fluoridation, not governments themselves, and have provable scientific studies which are rigorously conducted to address any new concerns as well. There are several other areas where people raise concerns about excessive fluoride intake:
- Thyroid issues
- IQ and cognitive abilities
- Pineal gland issues
Each of these cases generally present themselves as having sound scientific backing. Indeed, in some of these cases, there is scientific proof that excess exposure to fluoride can be an issue.
Please, however, note the use of ‘excessive’. In every study presented as conclusively proving fluoride is to be avoided, a closer examination of the evidence shows that the amounts of fluoride being used in these studies massively outweigh the amounts present in even the most fluoridated water. No normal person would ever consume those amounts under any normal life circumstance. While these studies are useful to scientists as they pursue new directions of exploration and occasionally even lead to medical breakthroughs, they are meaningless when presented as ‘evidence’ against fluoride. Even something as innocuous as table salt can kill you if consumed in lethal amounts, which is what the work done in these studies effectively explores- fluoride polluted water, not regulated drinking water. All studies done on fluoridated water in consumable amounts show no effect on hormonal or cognitive systems. Fear, sadly, persists longer and spreads further than truth, especially when not everyone has had the benefit of a full scientific education and sees ‘evidence’ presented from seemingly trustworthy sources.
Are there unexpected benefits to fluoridation?
Alongside these scare stories and misperceived studies, there are some other, equally interesting, breakthroughs surrounding fluoride in the water- a good example of how science taken out of context can be damaging as well as meaningless. Science is always exploring the fascinating world around us. Current areas of exploration include whether fluoridation can help alleviate some suicidal tendencies, and its impact on preventing eye cancer, both with promising results.
What should I take away from all of this?
The net result of all of this is that fluoride is critically important in the oral health of you and your children, and that fluoridated drinking water can have a massive positive effect on your dental health.
It’s also important to remember that water providers firmly regulate and monitor the fluoride content of water- sometimes fluoride is removed from the water, not added- to ensure it remains at a safe and beneficial level for people. Some natural water sources not only contain fluoride, but contain too much for safe consumption, and this is where issues of concern can be found.
Fluoride has an important role to play in the dental health of your family. As always, you are welcome to chat with us at Vitality if you have any concerns or would like any further information on the treatments we offer.