For more than half a century, local governments in the United States have been adding fluoride to water supplies to prevent tooth decay. The U.S. Public Health Service reports: "over half of the U.S. population is served by drinking water that is fluoridated naturally or adjusted. Additionally, since the 1950's, fluorides have been incorporated into toothpaste, other dental products, and dietary supplements."
From day 1, there have been dissenters. In 2006, a National Academy of Sciences report on fluoridated tap water and health brought what are often dismissed as fringe concerns directly into the mainstream. An expert government advisory panel recommended reducing the level of tap-water fluoridation to protect Americans from the harmful effects of too much fluoride.
Fluoride in Tap Water and Dental Health
In the 1940's, exposure to fluoride through food and drink was fairly low and access to fluoride-containing dental products was not common. Scientists and public health officials concerned with dental health noticed that regions with naturally highly fluoridated water also had fewer cases of dental caries. Subsequent fluoridation of drinking water supplies is often credited with 30-50% reductions in dental cavities.
Over that period, there has also been a marked increase in dental fluorosis, discoloring and pitting of tooth enamel caused by excessive fluoride exposure while teeth are still developing. This has occurred both in areas of the country with fluoridated water and without, indicating that our overall fluoride exposure has gone up.
Critics of fluoridation argue that the chemical's benefit is overblown. A review out in April 2011 by the West Virginia University Rural Health Research Center found that:
urban U.S. children, with more exposure to fluoridated water and dental care, have just as many cavities as less fluoridation-exposed rural children.
The researchers write: "For children's dental health measures, it was found that fluoridation rates were not significantly related to the measures of either caries or overall condition of the teeth for urban or rural areas."
Overall reductions in tooth decay have been most dramatic among wealthy Americans and least among poor Americans, the ones that fluoridation is supposed to benefit.
Too Much Fluoride and Health
Excessive exposure to fluoride has implications beyond cosmetic appearance of teeth. Skeletal fluorisis is a bone and joint condition that increases bone density and leads to joint pain and reduced mobility. Full skeletal fluorosis is extremely rare in the United States, but mild forms of fluorosis may be confused with arthritis and chronic fluoride exposure has been linked to a wide variety of other ailments and conditions, including bone cancer.
Fluoride Exposure Then & Now
Tap water is the top source of fluoride exposure for most Americans, but all food and water has some fluoride. The geology of some part of the country results in more-than-average levels of fluoride. Fluoride is taken up in water-containing fruits and vegetables and accumulates in the bodies of animals and fish. Because of the sodium fluoride content of ocean water, seafood is a particularly good source of fluoride.
Since tap water is used to process food, processed food usually contains as much or more fluoride than the water used in processing. If evaporation was used in processing, the resulting food stuffs may contain a great deal of fluoride. Instant tea, for example, when reconstituted with fluoridated tap water, contain much more fluoride than non-instant tea prepared with the same water.
Fluoride-containing pesticides are another route of exposure and for years sufuryl fluoride was routinely applied to cocoa beans and dried fruit.
Finally, fluoride-containing toothpastes and mouthwashes are much more common and easily available than when tap-water fluoridation first began. Topical application is the most effective way to strengthen teeth with fluoride, but swallowing toothpaste exposes the brusher to much more fluoride than is healthy.
Do Infants and Children Get Too Much Fluoride?
In response to the National Academies' report, Environmental Working Group analyzed tap water fluoridation with respect to one particularly vulnerable group of Americans: babies who's diet was entirely comprised of infant formula prepared from powdered mix and tap-water.
EWG's analysis shows that in 25 of the 28 largest cities in the U.S., fluoride levels in tap water alone will put 8 to 36 percent of all babies up to 6 months of age over the safe dose of fluoride on any given day. "These elevated early life exposures put children at risk for precisely the health problems that the NAS committee is concerned about," said Dr. Tim Kropp, toxicologist and senior scientist at EWG.
While exposures of infants are particularly dramatic, all children drinking overly-fluoridated water may be at risk of excessive exposure because of their small size.
U.S. Fluoridation Levels To Go Down?
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed that the nation's water utilities sharply reduce the amount of fluoride in tap water and the Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of the maximum allowable amount of fluoride in drinking water.
Big Berkey Water Filters and Fluoride
Your Berkey filters put you in charge of your household water quality, including your fluoride exposure.
EWG recommends that all households with water supplies exceeding the new HHS recommendation of 0.7 mg of fluoride per liter filter their water. Only filtered, or otherwise non-fluoridated, water should be used to reconstitute infant formula.
To find out if your town complies with the new recommendations, consult the CDC fluoride database or contact your water utility.
Optional Fluoride Water Filter for Your Big Berkey
Whether your water supply contains more than the recommended levels of fluoride or you want to eliminate it for any reason, the Big Berkey filter can be a great water filter for you.
By adding a PF-2 flouride water filter to any of the Berkey Water filtration systems, you can reduce up to 99.75% of the fluoride in your drinking water. The PF-2 filter is designed to work in conjunction with the Black Berkey filters for optimal water quality along with fluoride reduction.
Watch a Video on Fluoride and the Big Berkey Water Filter