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How Safe is Fluoride, Really?

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Fluoride is a mineral that’s known to confer protective benefits on the teeth, but for a variety of reasons its use is highly controversial. There are some pros—and some possible cons—associated with its use, so it’s important to understand these so you can make informed choices about using fluoride.

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that is present in many soil and water sources. It has some particular chemical properties that make it beneficial for oral health. In particular, fluoride’s chemical properties allow it to bind to tooth enamel.

Why is Fluoride Use Controversial?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the addition of fluoride to America’s drinking water is  a major public health achievement. Fluoride has certainly made a big difference in the country’s overall dental health—but what are the true pros and cons of fluoride exposure?

Pros of fluoride use

One of the most important benefits of fluoride is that it replaces minerals that are depleted from the teeth as a result of bacteria growth. This depletion occurs because oral bacteria deposit acid on the teeth, and the acid leeches minerals from tooth enamel. Fluoride helps to reverse this process, and restores tooth enamel.

Another benefit of fluoride is that when it’s integrated into tooth enamel, it makes the enamel more resistant to bacterial acids.

According to the American Dental Association, the fluoride in drinking water is responsible for a reduction in child and adult tooth decay of at least 25%.

Cons of fluoride use

While most people are comfortable with the use of fluoride in drinking water, there are also many people who prefer to avoid drinking fluoridated water. There are many reasons for this. For some people it’s about ethics, and the fact that people don’t have a say in whether water is fluoridated.

For others, it’s about safety. Like most things, fluoride is toxic in large doses, and this means that there is potential for some people to be affected by fluoride toxicity; however, it’s very unlikely for this to occur via drinking water.

There is also concern that children in particular are being overexposed to fluoride. There is some evidence for this, in the fact that some American children and teens have what’s called dental fluorosis, a discoloration of enamel caused by fluoride.

Other claims include the possibility that fluoride affects the brain, bones, and thyroid, and that exposure may reduce fertility in some people.

Weighing Up the Evidence

Although links between fluoride and many health conditions have been claimed, there is little evidence to support most of these. In most cases the toxic levels of fluoride are far, far higher than the amount that people are exposed to via drinking water and dental treatments.

Fluoride research has been ongoing for more than 70 years, and as a result of this research, the level of fluoride in drinking water has been calibrated very carefully to ensure that it’s safe to drink. In fact, a person would need to drink ten liters of water every day for a long time to receive a toxic dose of fluoride.

Berkeley Dentistry and Your Oral Health

The fluoride treatments we use at Berkeley Dentistry are designed to provide maximum benefit with minimum exposure. However, we do recognize that some people are hesitant about using fluoride—so if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to talk to Dr. Ricky Singh or one of our dental hygienists next time you visit us at our Berkeley, CA dental office.

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