Healthy World: Fluoride Supplementation

I remember brushing my teeth and swishing with fluoride in the fourth grade, as part of my regular after-lunch school routine. Since the local water was considered less fluoridated than ideal for young teeth, parents were offered the option to supplement their children at school.

Things have changed since that time, and parents are not always sure of whether or not to adjust the levels of fluoride for their young children.

There have been nation-wide scientific studies in the past 20 years, with claims that fluoride supplementation is either beneficial or not. The general consensus between doctors and dentists is that, if the existing level of fluoridation is taken into consideration, supplementation is likely to have more benefits than draw-backs.

In fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even claimed that water fluoridation is “one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

Fluoride is a naturally-occurring element, already found in water. Seawater averages a level of 1.2 to 1.5 parts per million, where un-altered fresh water usually averages between 0.01 and 0.3 ppm. Some parts of the world have seen results of dangerously high levels of fluoride in ground water, including a large portion of the western United States.

Another cause, outside of naturally-occurring high fluoride levels, is that sulfuryl fluoride and Cryolite are used as pesticides in crops. Two years ago, the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) suggested banning the pesticides, because excessive levels of fluoride are metabolized from consumption of these crops.

Deaths directly related to fluoride overdose have been documented, if it is consumed in high volumes and high speeds. The lethal dose is just 5 to 10 g, on average. Overdosing results in hypocalcemia, a condition in which the nervous system does not have access to calcium, which is necessary for function. 5 to 10 grams is a small amount, but it is also unlikely for the average person to accidentally overdose.

The biggest incentive to fluoridate water is the strengthening of tooth enamel, which is proven effective in decreasing tooth decay. Studies state-wide have shown statistical relationship between cavities and fluoride exposure, and neighboring Benton County has some disappointing results.

The American Dental Association’s publication in November 2006 claim that water fluoridation (in the right amounts) is “safe, effective and healthy.” The publication also claimed that fluorosis may result, but the effects are most often mild, and only dental care professionals can usually recognize the signs. There are rare cases where dental fluorosis occurs, causing brown discoloration or markings, and the enamel may even be pitted, darkening over time.

The ADA recommends consulting a dentist or physician regarding local water fluoride levels, and methods to alter your personal exposure, if desired.

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