When it comes to supplements that can start a fight, fluoride takes the cake. It’s like trying to talk about politics on Facebook. It’s like talking about Apple Cider Vinegar. Yep, that bad.
On first glance, it’s honestly quite confusing to me. Fluoride is everything we’d want from a holistically-leaning wellness perspective. It’s a mineral. It’s naturally occurring. It’s safe. Using it helps us be healthier. It sounds awesome!
I don’t want to step too deeply into the specific talking points on either side of the argument for or against fluoride. That’s not the purpose of this article, nor is it my real purpose in life. I’m here to help reframe these arguments and look closer at some of the “known facts” on numerous health and wellness related topics. Most importantly, I hope to call out the BS on both sides of the discussion.
What Fluoride Is
Fluoride is one of the most ubiquitous minerals found on earth. Number 13 per Wikipedia, to be exact. It’s in rocks. It’s in the water. It’s in humans. Let’s focus on that since most of my readers are humans.
Fluoride is an important mineral in humans. The nerd-lite version of how it works is this: it makes the calcium and mineral complex in the bones, including the teeth, stronger. Here’s a picture:
The take-home point of the image? Triangles with bigger circles are better.
If you notice, there’s mention of my favorite form of calcium – calcium hydroxyapatite. Our bones are made of calcium hydroxyapatite. Add a fluoride molecule to that, and you stabilize that molecule making the bone complexes much stronger.
When you apply doses of fluoride topically to the teeth, you can greatly reduce tooth decay. If you swallow a very small amount of fluoride from food or water on the regular, that also can help.
Fluoride is very safe, especially at the low doses we are normally exposed to. Fluoride is one of 3 ways we can almost entirely eliminate tooth decay. More on that in a future blog, but if you want to find out more, listen to our recent podcast episode with Holistic Dentist Dr. Claudia Patch.
The lesson covered in that “contentious” Apple Cider Vinegar article was that when we perceive something to be natural, we’ll downplay risks while over-emphasizing the benefits while doing the opposite for things perceived as a pharmaceutical. Fluoride, while VERY natural, is being perceived as a pharmaceutical .
I visited Dr. Patch shortly after the Apple Cider Vinegar article was released. She gave me insight into what’s real with Apple Cider Vinegar; many people who use it have damaged the enamel in their teeth. That’s a real risk that’s often not paid attention to.
On the fluoride side, what are the real risks of NOT using it? It benefits people who use it and is safe, but what about those who DON’T use fluoride?
The water here in Woodstock is not fluoridated. My customers are some of the most educated I’ve met. Many are affluent, and access to care is not a barrier. Despite this, all – yes all – of our local dentists have told me the amount of tooth decay in this population is surprisingly high. Dr. Patch pointed out that it rivals some impoverished areas of our country.
And it’s so rare to have 10 out of 10 dentists agree on anything.
The Risks of Fluoride
As high functioning adults, we realize that life isn’t black and white. Nothing is all good or all bad, but a mix of pros and cons. So, yes, fluoride has some risks.
Fluoride CAN be dangerous. Very dangerous. Just like Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, magnesium, calcium, saltwater, sunshine, children, and more can be dangerous. In the wrong doses, of course.
If you ingest too much fluoride, you’re going to have a problem. How much is too much? Like a bajillion times what you would swallow when you brush your teeth. It’s a TON more than you’d ingest from a fluoridated supply of water. I’m highly detail-oriented and number-specific on this one 🙂
The two very real things that can happen with excess fluoride exposure is fluorosis and fracture. F’s all around.
Fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic issue. It is a discoloration caused by a deposit of excess fluoride onto bones. If REALLY bad, fluoride can deposit on your bones, ligaments, and even into soft tissue. Again, most of us would only experience mild fluorosis on our teeth, but in some places where drinking water has naturally high levels of fluoride, people will see more severe effects.
Here’s a gross picture of people’s mouth.
I actually have this from fluoride treatments as a kid. I’m probably in the moderate range. Those are not my teeth, though.
Some people believe fluoride can turn you into Samuel Jackson in that M. Night Shamalamadingdong (I think that’s the spelling) movie. Here’s the truth about bones and fluoride: fluoride strengthens your bones, taking in too much can increase your risk of fracture, and not getting any fluoride can increase fracture risk, but not as much as getting way too much.
I’m going to say it again: Fracture CAN happen with excess fluoride. But NOT from YOUR drinking water or YOUR toothpaste.
The reality is, these risks are EXTREMELY low when fluoride is ingested at the low recommended amounts.
Despite this, there’s a tremendous controversy that envelopes discussions of fluoride. Let’s get into that!
The Fluoride Controversy
From being a communist plot to control us to an infringement on our rights, to what some say “questionable” scientific evidence, there has been much controversy around the use of fluoride.
Let me help you make fluoride controversy a bit clearer, because I believe most of our incorrect perceptions occur because things that should be distinct get stuck together.
With fluoride, we should separate out the controversy into two specific use cases of fluoride: adding fluoride to the public drinking water and using fluoride in your toothpaste.
The REAL controversy began with the discussion of putting fluoride in the public drinking water as an initiative to improve the oral health (and subsequently, general health) of a community. People were greatly opposed to this for whatever reasons, and I feel that negativity has dripped into the personal use of fluoride.
We put fluoride in the water because we found that places with higher amounts of natural fluoride in the water had less tooth decay. Controlling the amounts of fluoride had better health outcomes. Yippie for this!
My opinion, if it matters here, is that fluoridating water is a great public health policy and has been confirmed by an overwhelming majority of global expert groups.
If we are less hyped up about the discussion and look at it plainly, there are anti-fluoridation points I can get behind. Here are a few:
- “Stop fortifying everything.” Some people don’t want salt iodized or bread fortified with folic acid or their water fluoridated. Got it.
- “You’re taking away my choice.” This one goes either way, but I get how people feel their “rights” are being infringed upon. Again, we’re grown-ups, and there are a gazillion (which is greater than a bajillion) examples of “choices” that are made for us.
- “The evidence is lacking.” The body of evidence is great, but it’s not perfect like fluoridated water advocates state. There’s a few unanswered questions and gaps in the research that would make it a slam dunk case. Because we have this gap of information, controversy thrives still. Even the biggest government groups and organizations that people believe are untrustworthy have said that there are some holes in the broad use of fluoridated water. This doesn’t mean there isn’t great support, it just means there are enough questions that require further investigation to make it as close to 100% conclusive as we can.
Fluoride is added to the water because it is a simple, safe, and easy way to prevent costly illness and improve outcomes in an entire area. We worry because we’re often the testing ground for harmful chemicals, and that stinks. If you don’t want your water fluoridated, then speak to your reps and get a filter to pull it out of your water.
My key point: I don’t really care either way if the water is fluoridated or not. You shouldn’t either. What you SHOULD care about is if you are personally using fluoride toothpaste. Remember, the problem isn’t fluoride is bad – that’s the mucked up argument. Separate the personal from the public health policy.
Using fluoride in your toothpaste or rinses, however, is a VERY smart idea. You’re ingesting very little fluoride, unless of course you’re using Crest as a Dairy Alternative and putting it on your bagels daily.
The personal use of fluoride should NOT be controversial. If it is, I have a few points I’d like to raise about the argument that fluoride is not safe that may help your perspective here.
8 Thoughts I Have About The Anti-Fluoride Perspective
1. We’re afraid of fluoride, but we’ll gulp down silver without thinking about it.
People will argue that fluoride technically is non-essential, and therefore should not be used. Some of those same people will ingest colloidal silver, despite the fact it definitely is non-essential (except in dimes), has little data to support its use, and can do this to you (no joke):
This comes down to perception, not evidence. We’re told that colloidal silver is healthy and works and is safe, so we believe it to be true. We’re told fluoride is unhealthy. Silver and a handful of other popular supplements are WAY more harmful than fluoride. Our perceptions are askew, and it is negatively affecting something rather benign that has a positive benefit to your jibs.
2. We need to be as concerned about what goes into our body from sources we’re not aware of.
Many of us are trying to make the best decisions with our health. We live in a chemical soup, and we need to change our ways. We’re cautious about what we consume: organic, non-GMO, antibiotics/hormones, and all the new vocabulary.
We confidently take supplements because they’re “natural” and “safe.” The truth is the industry is poorly regulated, and our products aren’t what they say they are.
Not understanding this, and ingesting supplements that are contaminated or adulterated (a la moldy cheeseburgers from our 3 Types of Dietary Supplements piece), is the number one thing the otherwise health-conscious do that’s in direct opposition to our beliefs.
I know it’s not you, but the system that blinds you to this. My argument is that if you are concerned about fluoride, give equal attention to all aspects of your life to ensure there isn’t a discrepancy there. Consistency in beliefs and action!
3. Fluoride is everywhere.
Fluoride is naturally occurring. It’s added to the water supplies of almost all municipalities. You’re getting exposed to fluoride whether you like it or not. Processed foods and drinks, like soda or juice, will contain fluoride.
I don’t want to give them traffic because I think they’re giving the wrong message, but an anti-fluoride organization has a good, evidence-based summary of this. Here’s the table from their site:
(Fluoride Action Network dot org Accessed 8/24/19)
If you can’t avoid it, why wouldn’t you just use the right dose?
4. Personal fluoride use has a huge body of evidence supporting it.
This one goes without saying. There’s a LOT of data that’s been replicated and reproduced easily by private and public groups, big and small, globally.
I wish that most minerals or even drugs had this much validation. I super-wish it.
5. Fluoride has been around long enough to be challenged, and it has.
Going hand in hand with the last point, there’s been plenty of time for studies to prove a link to disease or to prove it doesn’t have a benefit. There are unanswered questions about the public health policy, yes, but with personal use, the benefit greatly outweighs any risks. Those risks are next to 0 if used correctly.
6. The conspiracy would be to tell you NOT to use fluoride.
If you don’t use fluoride, your teeth decay. That leads to expensive repairs and treatments and fun. Your dentist then swims in money like Scrooge McDuck. Not really, of course.
What is true is that the conspiracy argument doesn’t work because more people make wayyyy more money on tooth decay than if people had great healthy teeth.
Dentists and most practitioners, despite the narrative, want people to be healthy. There’s a profit to be made if people are sick, just like there’s a profit to be made when your car breaks down. Only the corporate monsters enjoy the profit from adversity.
Tinfoil hat time: maybe THEY are the ones spreading the misinformation about fluoride, and we should all use fluoride to stand up against corporate greed!
7. The fix is worse than the fluoride.
Dr. Patch, while on the podcast, really helped me in this discussion with this eye-opening perspective shift: the fix is worse than the fluoride.
You fix fluoride-related tooth decay using chemicals and compounds. Those are safe, but the body of evidence proving their safety is MUCH weaker than what fluoride has.
Why put yourself through the hassle, cost, and potential disease that comes from tooth decay and oral hygiene issues? Why potentially expose yourself to more than you have to be?
8. Fluoride-free is addressing a market need.
Some people may say, “There’s so many fluoride-free products, there has to be a reason for that!”
Yes, the reason is that some people want fluoride-free, and some companies want to make money. You can sell someone a fancy toothpaste for a premium using fewer ingredients.
I think it’s great that people have a choice of fluoride or fluoride-free, it’s just that the evidence states that the choice of fluoride is the better choice.
Fluoride – An F Word You Should Use Regularly
My argument for fluoride use, especially personally, is pretty clear and hopefully perspective shifting.
However, as I said in our Flu Shots Are Nothing To Sneeze At article, the truth is, you’re an adult. You can choose to do whatever you wish. All I ask is that the reason you choose to not should not be based on misinformation or pre-structured arguments.
Woodstock has a tooth decay problem. It’s not due to the overeating of junk food due to the munchies. It’s fluoride. The number of people suffering from tooth decay nationally is rising. I blame the misinformation.
The simple act of using a safe, naturally occurring mineral topically can reduce tooth decay.
So, please, don’t fall for the fluoride fads. There’s not enough truth in them to save your tooth.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth