Is Fluoride Bad For You? Is Fluoride Dangerous? Is Fluoride Toxic?
Fluoride is a name for several fluorine compounds. Fluoride is good for oral hygiene in small doses, but extremely dangerous and toxic in large doses.
Using topical fluoride as a dental medicine (in moderation) has proven benefits, but the accumulative nature of fluoride and its liberal usage in food, drink, tap water, and toothpaste presents issues for those trying to regulate fluoride intake.
Given that fluorine is one of the most deadly elements on earth atomically speaking, some sources question buying a toxic mining byproduct (sodium fluoride) at the state level and pouring it in the public drinking water at the expense of the taxpayer. Some consider this one of the greatest human rights abuses of the past century, and point out that 97% of the western European population doesn’t fluoridate their drinking water (and most have banned it due to its toxicity). Still, given the effectiveness of fluoride as a dental medicine, its liberal usage in the U.S. isn’t fully without reason.
With the above in mind, the debate over whether fluoride is good or bad in its many forms requires a nuanced discussion.
To sum up all fluoride research and citations on this page:
- Topical fluoride applied through toothpaste, and not swallowed, is pretty well proven to be medicinally beneficial. However, too much fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis or worse conditions over time. If you brush often, or have other sources of fluorine in your diet, consider alternating between fluoridated and non-fluoridated toothpaste.
- Drinking fluoridated water is also shown to have health benefits, and for the average tap water drinker is relatively safe but is the subject of more debate, especially when looking at total fluoride intake and related conditions like skeletal fluorosis. If you city uses fluoridated water, consider moderating your fluoride intake.
- Recycling fluorine byproducts into drinking water is the most heavily contested of these topics, and is not done in most western countries outside the US. It is questionable of whether any medicine should be administered via tap water. This is especially true for fluoridated water considering the full story of how and why this process was started.
- Other sources of fluoride can pose problems due to the cumulative nature of fluoride in the body. Fluoride salts are used in pesticides and that means wine and grape juice are high fluoride products, meanwhile natural foods like potatoes are naturally high in fluoride (from the natural calcium fluoride mineral in the earth). The fluoride byproducts compound the problems of natural fluoride for those trying to regulate fluoride intake, especially children.
- Bottom line: Fluoride can be extremely toxic to any living thing in large enough doses (fluoride toxicity) and fluoride can build up over time (meaning one has to avoid intake over time, which is tricky). Yet, fluoride does a good job of killing the bacteria on your teeth and is very effective ensuring dental health. As for not regulating one’s intake of sodium fluoride, the warning label on toothpaste has all our advice already printed on it (i.e. “restrict ingestion due to toxicity”, or exactly “keep out of the reach of children and contact poison control immediately if swallowed more than used for brushing”). In words, your toothpaste itself accurately admits fluoride is both toxic and darn good for dental health.
Below we separate the fluoride myths from the fluoride facts.
We attempt to treat the element fluorine as what it is, a useful tool for mining, a valuable tool for dentistry, and the center of America’s fluoride war. Our goal is to help you understand the debate. If you think we are off-base, just let us know in the comments below. We consider every bit of evidence presented.
TIP: To be clear, we don’t suggest eliminating fluoride from your dental routine, but do be careful not to ingest it (rinse and spit) and make sure you understand what other fluoridated products you are consuming. If your city fluoridates your water, you eat a lot of foods with fluoride, and you brush often… then you’ll likely want to take more care to avoid fluoride. Also, fluoride is more dangerous for kids, so keep an extra close eye on their fluoride intake.
FACT: To be fair, oxygen is also extremely toxic to most organic matter. It causes oxidation after all. Still, no dentist recommendation or quip about oxygen really explains why cities charge tax payers to dump fluorine byproducts in the water, or why other nations stopped doing this and America didn’t. Vitamins are important, and we don’t dump them in water… then again, Vitamin C isn’t a bi-product of our major mining industries.
Why The Government Puts Fluoride In Our Water? Grand conspiracy or oral hygiene?
Should I Brush With Fluoride?
We can’t do much about our drinking water or the natural or unnatural fluoride in foods, but we can all control our tooth brushing habits. I generally use fluoride free toothpaste on average, but I keep the tube of fluoride toothpaste around for deep cleaning (using the fluoridated toothpaste at least once a day). Dentists certainly recommend fluoride due to its bacteria-killing powers, but they also acknowledge its status as a poison in high concentrations.
With topical dental fluoride in toothpaste, the trick is to rinse your mouth out well after brushing (although, speaking of balance again, you need to give it time on your teeth for it to work). The bottom line here is that fluoride is a highly toxic poison in large amounts. You wouldn’t leave abrasive cleaners on your hands after cleaning and then eat a sandwich. You shouldn’t swallow fluoride (especially in high concentrations like in toothpaste), despite its usefulness for cleaning.
Your kidneys filter out some fluoride, and some other minerals and vitamins like iodine can help you avoid absorbing fluoride, but in high doses fluoride binds to your bones and thyroid for life with nasty side effects. In the worst case, it kills you like it does the bacteria.
That said, to get poisoned from just toothpaste you would have to eat a lot (an unnatural amount that isn’t possible in one sitting, same with tap water, or any fluoridated food). There is a tiny chance that swallowing tap water and toothpaste will do damage today; it is that if you do this every day for your life, and store a little fluoride each day, you could have a cumulative health issue. This is essentially the danger we have found to be most true for all fluoridation types.
Here is a rough breakdown of the amount of fluoride in toothpaste, from a dentist’s point of view.
- In a pea size amount of toothpaste, there’s 0.3 mg of fluoride.
- In a large stripe of toothpaste, there’s 2.25 mg of fluoride.
- In one liter of fluoridated water, you’ll find 1 mg of fluoride.
TIP: Ask your dentist how much toothpaste you should drink each day. That is a good way to get your dentist talking about the dangers of fluoride. We all agree it works wonders for teeth, but we all also agree it is dangerous if ingested in large amounts.
TIP: Cavities aren’t as bad as skeletal fluorosis, but they aren’t awesome either. Your dental health is part of your health, if you let your mouth decay out of a fear of fluoride… it is a little like not vaccinating your children out of a fear of vaccines. This is simply a subject that requires nuance, not an all or nothing attitude.
Should I Drink Fluoridated Tap Water?
Drinking fluoridated water is a personal choice, although it is probably worth some extra thought for those being exceptionally careful such as pregnant women and new mothers. Like the mercury in Tuna, it is up to you to regulate your intake given the warnings by governments and labels.
Water naturally has element-based minerals in it, including fluoride. However, our tap water (if your city voted it in) has a small amount of added fluoride salts. The difference is debatable, and certainly if your only fluoride intake is tap water you are safe according to US health departments. You are more likely to die from water intoxication from drinking fluoridated water before you die from fluoride toxicity.
The problem comes when you drink a lot of tap water, brush often, drink foods high in fluoride and don’t have other dietary practices that offset the fluoridation. The tap water fluoride limits are based on what is a safe amount of total fluoride intake and do not necessarily the presence of other sources of fluoride in the US into account.
TIP: Over-fluoridation is dangerous. This is why the fluoride levels were recently lowered in the US.
FACT: Fluoride is the only medicine put in drinking water in America. Some argue it makes more sense to elect to take medication than to have the government charge you money to put it in your water. This is one of the issues you should pay attention to during local voting. Every region has chosen collectively to drink fluoridated water through the voting process.
What is Fluorine?
To understand the health benefits and risks of fluoride, we have to examine the basic chemistry of fluorine (the element that all ‘fluo’ compounds are made from).
Fluorine is periodic table element and like chlorine one of the most toxic. It’s also like chlorine in being one of the more useful elements in American manufacturing and one of the driving forces behind the American chemical and industrial economy. Like tobacco, America has a love-hate relationship with fluorine, and this relationship has its roots in economics.
The fluoride we use in our water and toothpaste is a byproduct of the industrial fluoride refining process, which refines natural calcium fluoride into fluoride salts.
The various forms of fluoride are chemically different, but all have the same basic health risks, being known poisons in high quantities, and benefits for dental health in restricted amounts. Fluoride is hardly the only element-based medicine that can kill you, but it is the only one we put in our drinking water. Luckily, this is done at a regional state level and can be filtered by individuals, or voted on for removal by the region.
The above facts shadow the entire fluoride conversation and have since the 50’s when fluoride was added to America’s drinking water. These facts also shadow the countless studies done on fluoride’s health risks and benefits, which has resulting in a lot of confusing “junk science”.
Despite the mounds of “junk science” we are relatively clear that:
- Small amounts of fluoride in water improve dental health.
- Small amounts of fluoride in toothpaste improve dental health.
- Cumulative intake of fluoride is highly toxic and has some mental and health risks.
- Recycling fluoride in water and toothpaste is a cost effective solution for fluorine byproduct disposal.
Periodic Table & Elements.
FACT: It costs a little over $1 per person to fluoridate our water, disposing of fluorine byproducts (namely fluorosilicic acid) in other ways costs about $1 a gallon to clean up. The cost is $1 to a chemical company per person to put it in the water, instead of minus $1 per gallon of fluorosilicic acid to clean up and get it out of the water. Please don’t get conspiracy minded just yet, people do believe in the health benefits of fluoride, and in this respect, it’s a smart and economical recycling plan.
How is Fluoride Good or Bad For Your Health?
Fluoride is both good and bad for your health in these ways:
- Fluoride is good in that calcium fluoride (fluorite), the kind found in rocks, and sodium fluoride and other fluoride salts, (the types in drinking water, food, and toothpaste) have all be shown to have dental and medicinal benefits. Living organisms can’t survive these fluorine-based compounds, so it limits oral bacteria.
- Fluoride is dangerous in that fluoride toxicity from overdosing on fluoride has been shown to affect both mental and physical health. Large doses of fluoride, can harm teeth and cause bone disease. This is the opposite of what small doses are thought to do. Your kidneys filter out some fluoride, but any fluoride left behind binds to your bones for life, potentially causing health issues.
- In both cases, the form the element fluorine is in, its concentration, and the amount ingested matter substantially.
Why Is Fluoride Good for Teeth?
TIP: “What is the difference between a dentist and chemist?”
“a degree in chemistry.”
Should I Use Fluoride?
It’s nearly impossible to avoid fluoride in all its forms without an extremely strict diet that involves avoiding many natural foods, tap water, and non-filtered water.
Luckily few would advise trying to eliminate fluoride, or at least, natural fluoride, from one’s life. Remember it’s the large doses and build up that are dangerous; small amounts, especially in dentistry have shown to be useful.
Moderating fluoride intake can be tricky, but as a rule of thumb:
- If you drink lots of tap water: Consider reducing fluoride intake.
- If you don’t drink tap water: Consider using toothpaste with fluoride.
- If you are a baby: Little to no fluoride intake is smart.
- As a rule of thumb: Avoid over-consuming added fluoride.
How Much Fluoride Can a Person Intake Safely?
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake for fluoride:
- 0 to 6 months: 0.01 milligrams per day (mg/day)
- 7 to 12 months: 0.5 mg/day
- 1 to 3 years: 0.7 mg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 1.0 mg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 2.0 mg/day
Adolescents and Adults
- Males ages 14 to 18 years: 3.0 mg/day
- Males over 18 years: 4.0 mg/day
- Females over 14 years: 3.0 mg/day
TIP: The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of drinking water for maintaining oral health and preventing tooth decay. This updates and replaces the previously recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. The maximum dose of fluoride is thought to be around 10 mg for an adult per day.
What Foods Contain Fluoride?
According to the National Nutrient Database, most foods and drinks contain fluoride. Considering this, those who drink tap water and brush with fluoride toothpaste may want to be more conscious of the intake of fluoride-rich foods.
TIP: Foods sprayed with fluoride-base pesticides tend to be high in fluorine, grapes, and, therefore, wine, for instance. Since fluoride is historically so favored by the US, it is USDA organic safe; your organic food also has fluoride in it. This is particularly significant for foods that are naturally high in fluoride. Bottled water is also high in fluoride. Beer and juice are also rather high in fluoride, as is soda.
(mg per 100g)
(mg per portion)
|Black Tea (brewed)||0.373||1 cup, 240g (8 fl oz)||0.884|
|Raisins, seedless||0.234||small box, 43g (1.5 oz)||0.033|
|Table wine||0.153||Bottle, 750ml (26.4 fl oz)||1.150|
|0.081||Recommended daily intake,
3 litres (0.79 US gal)
|Baked potatoes, Russet||0.045||Medium potato, 140g (0.3 lb)||0.078|
|Lamb||0.032||Chop, 170g (6 oz)||0.054|
|Carrots||0.003||1 large carrot, 72g (2.5 oz)||0.002|
Data taken from United States Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database
What are Fluorine, Fluoride, and Fluorite?
Above you got the fluoride chemistry basics, but to understand the Fluoride debate you have to know another level of chemistry, and the different types of fluorine, specifically Hydrofluoric acid which is what we are talking about 95% of the time in the US:
- Fluoride: A term meant for laymen. All it means is that we are talking about a stable fluorine-based compound, typically referring industrial grade sodium fluoride added to drinking water and toothpaste.
- Fluorine: A pale-yellow, highly corrosive, poisonous, gaseous halogen element. It is the most electronegative and most reactive of all the elements, existing as a diatomic gas (F2) in its stable state and used in a wide variety of industrially important compounds. Anything with ‘fluo’ in it contains fluorine.
- Fluorite: Fluorite is a nickname for the naturally occurring mineral, calcium fluoride. Calcium fluoride is one of the world’s biggest money makers for chemical companies because it is very useful in the refining process. It is also used for nuclear processes. We know it’s toxic and know it has health benefits. Communities rich in natural fluorite have healthier teeth. They may also have a high rate of bone disease since fluorine accumulates in the bones over time due to its atomic makeup.
- Fluoride salts (AKA the fluoride in your water): These are a byproduct of fluorite-based manufacturing (particularly for aluminum metal). Hydrofluoric acid is produced from fluorite, and the byproduct in its new state combines atomically with salts. The fluorite is derived from phosphates (fertilizers). This compound is named “fluoride”, but it contains many other elements and goes in your drinking water and toothpaste. Specifically, according to the CDC, Fluorosilicic acid is the one used 95% of the time in US. See the CDC’s Water Fluoridation Additives Fact Sheet. Other fluoride salts used to fluorite water: sodium fluoride (salt), sodium silicofluoride (salt) or fluorosilicic acid (phosphate).
- The fluoride used in the fluorite and phosphate refinement process is hydrofluoric acid.
- The specific name for fluoride salts in toothpaste vary but include sodium monofluoride.
- Despite being called “fluoride,” fluoride salts often have other elements and compounds in them.
Ultimately, this is chemistry. If it is F bound with N, or F bound with C, it’s still F. The debate over fluoride isn’t of the uses of fluoride. It’s one over regulating the intake of fluorine based compounds, and taking a closer look at the health risks and health benefits of the ways we currently use fluoride.
As you can imagine, the dangers, advantages, and uses of fluorine change wildly depending on what form it’s in and what you are doing with it.
FACT: The US is one of a handful of countries who still puts fluoride in their water (the EU considers it toxic for instance).
TIP: Fluoride has a negative charge it is regarded as an anion, meaning ion (atom or molecule) with a net negative charge (anion means ion missing electrons). Its atomic makeup makes it good at killing living things; it also makes it good at binding to bones and certain internal organs that are looking for iodine.
Health Benefits of Fluorine
Dangers aside, fluoride has some real health benefits. You can read lots and lots of evidence that backs up the idea that “fluoride” works for dental health and has other medical applications.
Fluoride works wonders for treating osteoporosis and is useful for medical imaging, water treatment, chemistry, cleaning, and more.
As noted above, the health risks and health benefits have to do with concentration and what form fluoride is used in.
Some argue that fluoride is best applied in a topical mineral form (like toothpaste), others point to an increase in dental health since fluoride was added to water, others are critical of both ideas.
Science backs up the idea that the fluorine-based minerals can be both useful and toxic.
TIP: Science does not show that we have to use additive fluoride, it only shows it increases dental health. Some of the best uses of fluoride are in industry, medicine, and chemistry. This fact is well illustrated by the different stances countries take on fluoridated water.
Is Sodium Fluoride Dangerous?
The EU classifies sodium fluoride as a toxic and irritant, and rightly so, at high doses, it will essentially cause instant death, AKA Fluoride poisoning.
Any chemist knows that sodium fluoride has a dark side, but most people don’t think about it. This has led to a long history of what can only be described as “the American fluoride wars”.
A Quick History of Fluoride in the US
The history of fluoride in the US:
- From 1901 to 1930 fluoride was studied by studying communities naturally rich in calcium fluoride. Fluoride was found to have dental benefits in small amounts, despite it rotting teeth and being highly toxic in large amounts, due to it’s corrosive and anionic nature.
- Fluorine pollution was a significant problem back before WWII and is still an issue today. Fluorine is hard to clean up in mineral form, will melt a hole in the earth in liquid form, and acts as a deadly gas cloud in gas form.
- The aluminum industry creates fluorine waste in the production of aluminum. The aluminum industry and the related chemical industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. They were one of the largest polluters in regards to fluorine at the time.
- In the middle of WWII, when America was working on the Manhattan project, a lot of fluorites were needed, and that meant lots of waste. Drawing on the science from fluoride and dental health a giant marketing campaign was launched to recycle fluoride in drinking water to improve dental health.
The History of Fluoride
- You can learn about the Story of Fluoridation from the National Institute of Dental Research.
- Or from WashingtonPost’s brief history of America’s fluoride wars.
Fluoride and Mental Health Risks
This is the least studied aspect, but fluoride is thought to be a neurotoxin that has mental health risks like mercury.
Some believe that fluoride calcifies the pineal gland (AKA the third eye), saying that this muddles people’s brains and suppresses mental abilities.
You will probably not be surprised to know that there is no published scientific study on “how the pineal gland’s physic potential is limited by toothpaste and drinking water, purposefully, because of some outdated, elitist attitude about mob rule.”
Also, we don’t have to get too conspiracy minded here because this video has done an excellent job:
Fluoride: Poison On Tap – Full Documentary.
- You can read the Pineal Gland study here: Fluoride Deposition in the Aged Human Pineal Gland.
- From a non-tinfoil hat perspective, this article from Harvard’s public school of health sum’s up the dangers of fluoride debate well.
To sum this up with a quote from the Harvard article:
“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain… The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”
The Fluoride Conspiracy and Fluoride Marketing
The fluoride conspiracy assigns a grand meaning of the above to what is likely, simply, the self-interest of America.
America needed to stay strong economically, and they needed to win the war, this was well done through a marketing campaign that served many self-interests.
The result of the campaign was Americans putting fluoride in their drinking water, the ramifications of that decision will shadow American history for some time to come.
The best way to understand the mindset of those who fluoridated the water is to study the primary marketing genius behind the campaign, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays.
Edward Bernays 1: Torches of Freedom.
See, I told you it was similar to tobacco, a complex uniquely American issue that isn’t as black and white as some might make it out to be. You can learn more about Edward Bernays here.