Fluoride: Friend or Foe?

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- There is no denying that we are living in an information age, where online resources are readily available at our fingertips. With anti-fluoride propaganda flooding the Internet and the recent Federal government announcement of recommending lowering the fluoride level in drinking water, it can be difficult to decipher whether fluoride is friend or foe.

Fluoride is an element naturally occurring in our environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is classified as a mineral and is released from rocks into the air, soil and water. Almost all water contains some amount of fluoride. 

In 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water. After 11 years of water fluoridation, the town saw a 60 percent reduction in childhood cavities.  As such, the CDC declared fluoridation of drinking water as one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

Although dental cavities are largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease of children, aged six to 11 years and adolescents, aged 12 to 19 years. In fact, the CDC proclaims that tooth decay is four times more common than asthma amongst adolescents. Cavities also affect adults, with nine out of 10 over the age of 20 having some degree of tooth-root decay.

Still, the consumption of too much fluoride poses some health risks. The CDC explains dental fluorosis as a change in tooth enamel. These changes can vary from barely noticeable white spots, in mild forms, to staining and pitting in the more severe forms. It is important for consumers to note that dental fluorosis will only occur when younger children consume too much fluoride, during the time their permanent teeth are developing.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced April 27, 2015, that the recommended level of fluoride in community water be reduced to 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water.  This replaces the previous recommended range, 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, which was last issued in 1962.

Community water fluoridation is a public service that has greatly enhanced the dental health of Americans. Readers should not mistake lowering of the recommended amount of fluoride as an indicator that fluoride is bad. The general decrease in dental cavities is a result of fluoride being consumed in ways not available prior to 1962. We now find traces of fluoride in our food and within several dental products (toothpaste, mouth washes, fluoride gels, and other prescribed fluoride supplements), with higher concentrations available at dental clinics.

The U.S Deputy Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. stated, "While additional sources of fluoride are more widely used than they were in 1962, the need for community water fluoridation still continues." If there are questions or concerns regarding fluoride, please contact your dental health professional.