The Fluoride Debate: Is It Safe?

flouride before and afterWater fluoridation is the deliberate addition of fluoride to the water supply, done by public officials. They do this to supposedly reduce tooth decay, and many countries (including the United States, Canada, and others) have fluoridated water. There is plenty of controversy over the effectiveness, ethics, legality, necessity, and safety of the procedure.


According to studies performed in the 1940s (claimed by many to be of faulty scientific value), adding fluoride to the water supply can prevent and reduce the incidence of dental caries. Fluoride does this by replacing minerals (calcium) lost from the teeth. Municipal governments cite those decades-old studies when justifying the practice. What those studies did not look into was how lifelong exposure to fluoride in drinking water can affect people.

Potential Dangers Of Fluoride Use

Fluoride isn’t a lightweight chemical. It has been linked to many diseases, disorders, and even death. One tube of toothpaste has enough fluoride in it to kill a child, if ingested. (See for a chart that shows how much of a tube of fluoride toothpaste is fatal to people of different ages.) This is why, as of 1997, the FDA requires all fluoridated toothpastes to carry a warning label. So why are we drinking it along with our water? That’s a good question.

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Fluoride Can Cause:

  • fluorosis of the teeth and bones, leading to higher incidence of broken bones, stains on teeth, and tooth decay;
  • osteoarthritis;
  • birth defects;
  • acute poisoning;
  • bone and uterine cancer;
  • perinatal death;
  • lowered IQ;
  • immune system suppression;
  • essential enzyme inhibition;
  • gastrointestinal disorders;
  • hypothyroidism;
  • liver damage; and
  • fluoroderma, a condition which causes cystic acne.

Ethics And Legality

Water fluoridation is unethical because a person doesn’t get to choose whether to be medicated or not. You can’t just flip a switch at your tap and decline the water fluoridation; it gets put in your water without direct and informed consent. Further, the municipality (who administers the medication) cannot control the dosage; everyone drinks different amounts of water, ingests fluoride through different avenues, and has a different body weight (therefore affecting dose). Finally, water fluoridation actually violates the Nuremberg Code regarding human experimentation. This point alone should be enough to discourage water fluoridation.

Water fluoridation isn’t actually necessary. It hasn’t been proven effective, and its effects are more harmful than helpful. So why continue the practice?

Where It’s Banned

Many countries have banned water fluoridation, including Japan, Austria, Denmark, China, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Individual municipalities in other countries have discontinued the process. Most of Europe is free from fluoridated water.

People At Risk

People at risk are children, infants whose parents give them infant formula mixed with fluoridated tap water (against manufacturer’s instructions, by the way!), and those in lower-income households who can’t afford to buy unfluoridated water or reverse osmosis filtering systems.

What You Can Do

If you’re concerned about your fluoride intake, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure:

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  • limit your unfiltered water intake – if you don’t know whether the water is fluoridated, assume it is;
  • limit your intake of bottled beverages, unless it specifically says “distilled” or “reverse osmosis” on the label – this includes beer, soda, wine, and juice;
  • consider using fluoride-free toothpaste;
  • only drink bottled water that is distilled or treated with reverse osmosis;
  • avoid drinking red or black tea, as it naturally contains high levels of fluoride;
  • eat organic when possible, since conventional pesticides leave high fluoride residues;
  • eat organic meats, particularly chicken, as their feed contains high levels of fluoride – particularly avoid mechanically separated chicken, since the process leaves a lot of bone in the produce and fluoride is stored in the bone;
  • don’t cook in Teflon/non-stick pans, because fluoride is a compound used in the coating;
  • limit your canned food intake, as you can assume it contains fluoride; and
  • read all the labels on your food; fluoride is often used as a preservative.


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Butler, J.E., et al, Fluoride: An Adjuvant For Mucosal and Systemic Immunity. Immunology Letters, 1990;26:217-220.

Coffel, Steve. The Great Fluoride Fight., Garbage, May/June 1992;32-37.

Gessner, Bradford D., M.D., et al. Acute Fluoride Poisoning From a Public Water System. New England Journal of Medicine, January 13, 1994;330(2):95-99.

Giachini M, Pierleoni F. Fluoride Toxicity. Minerva Stomatol. 2004 Apr;53(4):171-7.

Gupta, I.P., et al.  Fluoride as a Possible Etiological Factor in Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 1992;7:355-356.

Limeback, Hardy, BSc, Ph.D., DDS.  Fluoride Accumulation in Human Teeth and Bones: Is Dose Adjustment Now Required?. Canadian Journal of Public Health, March-April, 1993;84(2):78-81.

Navak B, Roy MM, Das B, Pal A, et al. Health effects of groundwater fluoride contamination. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2009 Apr:47(4):292-5.

Pendrys, David G. and Katz, Ralph V.  Risk of Enamel Fluorosis Associated With Fluoride Supplementation, Infant Formula and Fluoride Dentifrice Use. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1989;130(6):1199-1208.

Phipps, K.R. and Burt, B.A. Water-Borne Fluoride and Cortical Bone Mass: A Comparison of Two Communities. Journal of Dental Research, June 1990;69(6):1256-1260.

Whitford, G.M., The Physiological and Toxicological Characteristics of Fluoride. Journal of Dental Research, February 1990;69(Spec Iss):539-549.

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