What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a mineral compound that contains fluorine, a highly reactive element of the halogen family. It can be found in mineral deposits and in diluted form in some sources of water. In its pure form, fluoride is highly toxic, but when it is diluted and used in minute amounts, it becomes an important nutritional supplement.
Why is fluoride important to nutrition?
Fluoride is most important in the prevention of tooth decay, and in appropriate amounts, it can reduce cavities by more than 50 percent. It becomes incorporated into the enamel of teeth, making their crystal structure more resistant to decay.
This effect is especially dramatic in children, because fluoride is most effective just before and after the emergence of teeth. It is believed that the recent drop in dental cavities among children in the United States occurred largely because of the
Good sources of fluoride
- Fluoridated water.
- Mineral water.
- Fish and shellfish.
water fluoridation program that was initiated in the 1950s. Adults can also benefit from the mineral, although to a lesser extent. Contrary to popular belief, there is no reason for pregnant women to take fluoride supplements, as studies have shown that they have no effect before the birth of the child.
There are also studies suggesting that fluoride strengthens bone structure, and can thus alleviate symptoms of osteoporosis, the thinning of bones. Researchers believe that it binds with calcium, preventing the loss of bone tissue. In fact, it has been found that the incidence of
osteoporosis is lower in areas with naturally or artificially fluoridated water.
There are also reports that fluoride may help prevent the most common cause of hearing loss in the elderly. More research is needed, however, to prove this.
How much fluoride do I need?
The optimal fluoride content in the water is 1 milligram per liter of water. More than half of the United States population lives in areas where water has been fluoridated artificially or where it naturally contains the mineral. However, millions of Americans use well water or live in communities that are not serviced by fluoridated water. Local or state health departments can test well water for its fluoride content.
What happens if I don't get enough fluoride?
The only symptom is a significant increase in cavities.
What happens if I take too much fluoride?
Too much fluoride produces discolored enamel giving the teeth a mottled appearance. This discoloration, which is called fluorosis, sometimes occurs in people who live in areas with high levels of natural fluoride.
Fluoridation of water has been a subject of ongoing controversy for years, with opponents contending that it causes cancer, birth defects, and other adverse effects. However, there is no scientific evidence that fluoride in the minute amounts in which it is used is harmful. An exception involves kidney dialysis patients, who should drink only distilled water to prevent a buildup of fluoride and other minerals.
Should I take fluoride supplements?
There is no need for fluoride supplements if drinking water contains 0.7 to 1 milligram of fluoride per liter. However, people who live in areas with inadequate fluoride concentration in the water may want to ask their doctors about fluoride supplements. Fluoride can be taken as drops, tablets, or in combination with other vitamins and minerals. Daily dosages should not exceed 0.25 milligrams a day for children up to 2 years of age; 0.5 milligrams for children ages 2 to 3; and 1 milligram between the ages 3 and 13 or until a year after all the permanent molars have appeared.
Although fluoridated drinking water and supplements are the most effective sources, external applications of fluoride also can be helpful.This may be in the form of fluoride toothpaste, mouthwashes, or applications by a dentist.
Advice about fluoride
- Consult a dentist, local water authority, or public health department about fluoride concentration in the water in the area where you live. If this concentration is below 0.7 mg per liter, ask a doctor or dentist about the advisability of fluoride supplements.
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste for the entire family, but make sure that children do not swallow it.