You know us—we really like to stay focused on solutions to help you navigate to greater oral health. Goodness knows there is plenty in this industry to ‘cry foul’ about, but that’s not our style.
That’s why we avoid writing lots of articles that simply identify problems. While it is important to be aware of problems that exist, we prefer to instead help you by sharing solutions to problems, not by simply introducing more problems (and stress) into your life.
However, given our recent articles exploring how to stop tooth decay and remineralize cavities, it’s time to quickly dive into dentistry’s nasty little F-word.
We’re talking about fluoride, of course.
After all, for many generations, we have been taught that fluoride is the ‘go-to’ solution to stop tooth decay and support remineralization, right?
The issue around the safety of fluoride is a hot and controversial topic. There are many pieces to unpack in this discussion, so let’s jump in…
Getting beyond the simplistic question, ‘Is fluoride safe?’…
Sometimes the quality of information we receive is directly related to the questions we ask.
In this discussion, asking whether it’s safe to use fluoride only adds to the confusion.
Both sides of the argument have very well-researched data to back their claims, with experts willing to state that they are ‘right’. So it’s not even really possible to answer the simplistic, ‘is it safe?’ question.
Instead, let’s shift to taking a look at the research and walking through our simple, two-step process that we use to ‘test’ the risks vs. benefits of any product that is going to be used in the mouth.
We first introduced this process in our free video tutorial course, the ‘5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth’.
The process involves simply answering two questions:
1. What is the impact of this product/ingredient in the mouth?
2. What is the impact of this product/ingredient ‘downstream’ in the rest of the body?
To start, we must understand that anything we put in the mouth is going to be absorbed by the cheek and gum tissue and wind up in the rest of the body. For example, think of homeopathic remedies or other medicines that are absorbed by placing the pill under the tongue.
In other words, the myth, ‘What goes in the mouth, stays in the mouth’ is false. We can’t put something into our mouths and then just rinse to avoid absorbing it into our bodies.
So, in the spirit of gaining clarity on this subject, let’s step through this process together with a focus on fluoride.
The benefits and risks of using fluoride in the mouth…
According to the Center for Disease Control, fluoride helps reduce the risk of tooth decay in three ways. It:
1. Enhances remineralization of weakened regions on our teeth before they evolve into what we know as a ‘cavity’.
2. Inhibits further demineralization to resist future decay.
3. Destroys the enzymes of bacteria responsible for tooth decay.
Here’s a link to download the CDC report yourself.
To best understand how fluoride works, let’s recall our recent article, ‘How Teeth Decay’, where we introduced the mineral compound that our teeth are made of: hydroxyapatite. This material is a compound of calcium and phosphorus with a bit of hydrogen and oxygen. For those of you who look nostalgically to high school chemistry class, the formula is Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2.
When fluoride is applied topically to our teeth, it helps form a similar compound, called fluor-apatite (also called fluoroapatite). In this similar compound, the fluoride ‘fills the need’ for the (OH)2 in hydroxyapatite.
Research shows that fluor-apatite is harder than hydroxyapatite, and it does resist decay a bit better than natural tooth material.
However, experts who speak against the use of fluoride point out that harder-than-natural teeth aren’t necessarily better.
Our friend and mentor, Dr. David Kennedy, shared with us his concern that regular use of fluoride may cause the outer enamel to be more brittle, and therefore more vulnerable to tooth fractures.
How does fluoride impact the whole body?
This is where the research gets pretty nasty.
The prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, published an article that classified fluoride as a neurotoxin. The research, titled Neurobehavioural Effects of Developmental Toxicity, suggests that children are more at risk than adults for brain damage from fluoride exposure.
To add to the evidence, a recent Harvard study showed a connection between fluoride and lower IQ in children. Also, it’s been shown that fluoride crosses the placenta into a developing baby’s fragile system.
And it’s not just the brain that is negatively impacted by fluoride. Several studies show an increased risk to the thyroid gland, which can directly undermine our metabolic function. Once the metabolism gets knocked out of its normal functioning range, this can cause all sorts of other systems to down-regulate. None of this means a healthier, more vital life.
In other words, ‘downstream’ in the body, fluoride has no benefit, and the potential consequences it can have are pretty substantial.
What about water fluoridation?
Water fluoridation is an issue where we have to choose our words carefully. We do not in any way support this program. Protecting clean water is extremely important for us as a global culture, and we see no positive outcome from water fluoridation.
The research behind the proposed benefits of water fluoridation is full of holes. Truly, it is a very dark story that we choose to not focus on. If we lived in a municipality that fluoridated its water supply, we would move, drill a well, or get a really, really good home water filtration system.
A filtration system for drinking water is good, but fluoride is pretty tough on filters, so they’ll need to be replaced regularly. To add insult to injury, we absorb fluoride through the skin by showering in fluoridated water, so an entire home filter system is best.
Our holistic conclusion…
If fluoride were the only compound on the planet that helped us resist decay and remineralize our teeth, we would have to reassess whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
However, there are many ways we can make our teeth very resistant to decay and remineralize cavities. We don’t have to introduce a compound that’s so widely recognized as a toxin to achieve our desired result of a cavity-free life.
We choose to apply the ‘precautionary principle’ toward fluoride: better safe than sorry. For us, the risks are greater than the benefits when it comes to using fluoride in the mouth.
So, as we wrap up this deep dive into dentistry’s nasty little F-word, it really comes back to your own value judgment of the risks vs. benefits. We hope this article has provided you with valuable information to assist you as you decide if using fluoride is a wise choice for you and your loved ones.
Feel free to check out the final entry in this series: Putting together the pieces to reverse tooth decay and remineralize cavities.
Helpful, Related Resources:
How to stop tooth decay and remineralize cavities [article]
How teeth decay (part 2 of how to stop tooth decay) [article]
The ‘perfect storm’ for decay (part 3 of how to stop tooth decay) [article]
How to reverse tooth decay with diet (part 4 of how to stop tooth decay) [article]
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2001). Recommendations for using fluoride to prevent and control dental caries in the United States. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Review 50(RR14):1-42.