These Fluoride Health Hazards May Make You Rethink Your Oral Care

Too Much Fluoride is Bad For the Environment Excessive fluoride isn’t just potentially harmful to health; it can also have negative effects on the environment. Although… Aisha Abdullah - May 12, 2023

You probably know that fluoride helps keep teeth strong. Toothpaste and mouthwash commercials and public health campaigns to add fluoride to tap water advertise the mineral as a critical part of oral health. But what you may not know is that very high levels of fluoride can have serious negative health effects. The amount of fluoride in your toothpaste or drinking water isn’t dangerous. But consumption of more than the recommended amount of fluoride is linked to serious and even life-threatening health hazards.


What is fluoride, and why is it important?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that exists in trace amounts in food, water, and soil. Because of its role in promoting oral health, fluoride is a common ingredient in dental hygiene products like toothpaste and mouthwash. The mineral helps strengthen enamel, the thin outer coating that covers teeth and prevents damage to them. Fluoride also reduces tooth decay (also called cavities) by blocking the growth of cavity-causing bacteria and reverses early signs of decay. Because of its dental health-promoting qualities, some countries, including the U.S., add fluoride to drinking water to ensure that people get enough to keep their teeth healthy. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking fluoridated water reduces the risk of cavities by as much as 25 percent. The policy is considered by some to be one of America’s most successful public health achievements of the 20th century.

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Water Fluoridation Has Been a Controversial Topic For Decades

Although most U.S. cities have been artificially adding fluoride to drinking water since the 1940s and 50s, the policy is not without controversy. The practice of water fluoridation is not common worldwide, with only 24 countries instituting the practice to some degree. In total, less than 6 percent of the world’s population drinks artificially fluoridated water. In addition, a handful of global regions have naturally high levels of fluoride in their water, including Senegal, northern China, Sri Lanka, the East African Rift Valley, and parts of the western U.S. Some critics of water fluoridation argue that citizens aren’t allowed to opt-out or control the amount of fluoride they are exposed to when it’s being added to the water system. Criticism increased following several studies in the 1990s that found several potential health hazards associated with consuming too much fluoride. The U.S. has since decreased its recommended amount of fluoride in drinking water to a safe level. However, many skeptics believe it should be removed altogether. Around 70 percent of Americans drink fluoridated water.

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Dental Fluorosis Is a Risk of Excess Flouride Exposure

The most common risk of excessive exposure to fluoride is dental fluorosis. This condition causes the enamel of the teeth to become discolored. In mild cases, the discoloration appears as barely noticeable white spots on the teeth. In more severe cases, the discoloration is darker and may even form pits in the teeth. Dental fluorosis is of the most risk during the stages of tooth development and is, therefore, most common in children under the age of eight. A CDC survey found that around a quarter of the U.S. population has mild dental fluorosis. While the condition is not harmful to the teeth or overall health, it can be unsightly and may require dental treatment to correct. Severe fluorosis requires very high levels of fluoride exposure, far higher than the levels you would be exposed to in drinking water or toothpaste. On the other hand, people in areas with naturally high fluoride levels in the ground and drinking water are at the highest risk of severe fluorosis. The condition is considered endemic in these regions, which means it regularly occurs there.

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Skeletal Fluorosis is Caused By Flouride Building Up in Your Bones

Like severe dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis can develop in people who have been exposed to extremely high levels of fluoride. The condition occurs when fluoride in the body accumulates in the bones. This can causes bones to become brittle and more susceptible to fractures. In normal circumstances, around half the fluoride you consume from food, water, and the environment is absorbed into the teeth and bones. The rest is removed from the body in urine. But in areas where the water supply is naturally very high in fluoride, the bones are continuously absorbing too much fluoride. This can cause weakening of the bones, joint pain, difficulty moving, and in very severe cases, paralysis. Children born in these regions may develop bone abnormalities such as increased bone density or unusually curved bones, especially in the legs. Although skeletal fluorosis is most common in places with highly fluoridated water, it can also occur as a result of exposure to high levels of fluoride through other sources, including industrial pollution. Skeletal fluorosis can be reversed by removing fluoride exposure, but many of the condition’s health effects are permanent.

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Accidental Ingestion of Large Amounts of Fluoride is Toxic

In rare cases, exposure to high levels of fluoride can cause acute toxicity or fluoride poisoning. The mildest version of this occurs when you have an upset stomach after accidentally swallowing toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride. While uncomfortable, this low level of exposure is not typically a cause for concern. However, swallowing large amounts of fluoride-containing dental products can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Children are at a higher risk of this than adults, which is why parents are instructed to use very small amounts of toothpaste and monitor young children until they are able to brush without swallowing toothpaste. Exposure to larger amounts of fluoride, typically through contact with contaminated water or industrial waste, can cause severe symptoms, including seizures, irregular heartbeat, tremors, and cardiac arrest.


You Excessive Fluoride May Cause Thyroid Dysfunction

Studies into the effects of excessive fluoride exposure have had mixed results, but some evidence suggests that fluoride can interfere with the function of the thyroid. This gland produces hormones that control many important body functions, including growth, digestion, body temperature, and heart rate. An underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. Hypothyroidism can cause fatigue, weight gain, muscle soreness, depressed mood, loss of sex drive, and brain fog. One study found that people in areas with drinking water fluoridation are at higher risk of developing hypothyroidism than people in areas without the policy. This study was controversial as it contradicted the findings in previous studies, suggesting that more research is needed to determine if there is a link between fluoride and thyroid dysfunction. A more recent study found that fluoride exposure may increase the risk of hypothyroidism in pregnant women.


Some Research Suggests Fluoride Toxicity Harms the Brain

Some studies also suggest that fluoride exposure may be associated with an increased risk of neurological issues, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cognitive impairment, and developmental delays. A 2019 Canadian study found that boys born to mothers who reported drinking higher amounts of fluoridated water during pregnancy had lower IQs at ages 3 and 4 than boys whose mothers drank less. No effect was seen in girls. The study was limited by the fact that it was based on self-reported data and couldn’t include groups that didn’t know if they were drinking fluoridated or non-fluoridated water. An earlier study in Mexico found similar results in children between the ages of 4 and 12. Although neither study is definitive, they do raise concerns about the potential long-term effects of high fluoride levels on brain development. Industrial fluoride is classified as a potential neurotoxin.

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Too Much Fluoride Can Cause Gastrointestinal Problems

Fluoride that is ingested is typically absorbed by the stomach and intestine before being dispersed into the blood and spreading to the rest of the body. High fluoride levels in the stomach and intestines can turn into hydrofluoric acid, irritating the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Accidentally ingesting fluoride-enriched oral dental products can produce some of these symptoms, usually a mildly upset stomach. Foods high in calcium can help relieve these symptoms because fluoride is strongly attracted to the nutrient. That’s why fluoride is so readily absorbed by the teeth and bones. At higher doses, such as continuous exposure to highly fluorinated groundwater or fluoride dust on industrial work sites, may cause chronic gastrointestinal problems. Nausea and abdominal pain have also been reported as side effects of treatments that contain fluoride.

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Toxic Levels of Fluoride May Affect Reproductive Health

The evidence is not conclusive, but some research suggests that exposure to high levels of fluoride may be associated with reproductive health problems, including decreased fertility. These risks are primarily a concern in areas with naturally high levels of fluoride in the environment. There are several ways that fluoride may impact reproductive health. First, excessive levels of the chemical may district hormone production in the thyroid, including hormones related to fertility and pregnancy. Some studies have found that women who are chronically exposed to fluoride have abnormal levels of menstrual cycle-regulating hormones. Another study found that babies. A study published last year found evidence that women who were exposed to high levels of fluoride in drinking water during pregnancy were more likely to have babies with low birth weights.

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Some People Have Allergic Reactions to Fluoride

In rare cases, exposure to fluoride can cause an allergic reaction, leading to symptoms such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Fluoride allergies are extremely rare and most commonly occur with topical exposure, such as through dental products rather than through ingestion. One of the most common signs of a fluoride allergy is itching or burning on the roof of your mouth after using products that contain the ingredient. People with fluoride allergies may also experience swollen, irritated gums and swelling of the tongue. If severe enough, tongue swelling can be fatal. Swollen or cracked lips, a rash around the mouth, and sores inside the mouth are other possible symptoms of an allergic reaction to fluoride. However, fluoride is not the only ingredient in toothpaste that can cause allergic reactions. It may be necessary to consult your dentist or doctor to determine what is responsible.

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Fluoride Exposure May Increase the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

There is some evidence that people in areas with very high natural fluoride levels in the environment are at higher risk of high blood pressure. For example, several studies found a potential association between hypertension and fluoride levels in regions where fluorosis is endemic. But the evidence for a link between high blood pressure and fluoride from other sources is far less clear. Several animal studies suggest a possible link between fluoride exposure and cardiovascular disease. One study found that consumption of fluoride-enriched salt increased children’s and teens’ cardiometabolic risk scores, which measures risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like diabetes. However, because the study assessed salt intake, it serves as a poor comparison to fluoridated water intake studies.


Fluoride Exposure Could Be Linked to Breakouts

One of the more controversial potential risk factors of fluoride exposure is acne. Some people, including celebrities, swear that cutting fluoride got rid of their acne. But experts point out there’s not much evidence to support this claim. Research in the 1970s suggested that fluoride exposure could be associated with “acne-like eruptions.” But more recent research doesn’t show a link between fluoride and acne. Some people hypothesize that hormone issues related to excess fluoride exposure may contribute to breakouts. But, at least for now, no thyroid hormones have been definitely linked to acne breakouts. It is possible that other hormones that are related to acne, such as androgens, may be impacted by fluoride exposure. This topic has not yet been investigated. However, thyroid dysfunction can cause skin issues like eczema which may be confused with acne. Additionally, hypothyroidism is associated with dry, flaky skin, which can sometimes make you more vulnerable to breakouts.


Too Much Fluoride is Bad For the Environment

Excessive fluoride isn’t just potentially harmful to health; it can also have negative effects on the environment. Although fluoride is a mineral that naturally occurs in the environment, too much is dangerous to plants, animals, and other organisms. When large amounts of fluoride are released into the environment, usually through industrial pollution, it can accumulate in the environment and inside living organisms. This leads to toxicity and other negative effects. For example, high levels of fluoride have been found to disrupt aquatic ecosystems, altering the pH. This is harmful to many marine animals like brine shrimp and freshwater fish, especially the developing young. Like humans, fluoride exposure is also linked to dental fluorosis and bone abnormalities in other large mammals like deer and cows. Plants and microorganisms are also vulnerable to high fluoride levels. The chemical can seep into the soil and water. When this happens, the environment may become uninhabitable for the growth of certain microbes and plant life.

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How To Avoid Excessive Fluoride Exposure

Now that you know the potential health risks of fluoride, you might be wondering how to avoid consuming too much. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to prevent excessive fluoride exposure. First, it’s important to be aware of where you’re being exposed to fluoride. In countries that fluoridate drinking water, that’s likely your primary source of the mineral. Dental care products like toothpaste and mouthwash are the other major source. Fluoride-enriched table salt and certain types of tea are also high in fluoride. You can speak with your dentist about low-fluoride alternatives for oral care. Don’t take fluoride supplements unless prescribed by a doctor. Be careful to avoid swallowing oral care products. In areas with higher natural fluoride levels, you might need to opt for bottled or treated tap water.

Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Fluoride: Risks, uses, and side effects

What Is Fluoride, and Is It Safe?

Fluoride | The Nutrition Source

Fluoride Health Professional Fact Sheet

What are the possible health effects of fluoride, and what is the latest evidence about them?

Fluoride: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, Interactions

Fluoride: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects.