What is Fluoride, Anyway? And Do We Really Need It in Our Toothpaste?

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You’ve likely heard of this ubiquitous, naturally occurring mineral because of its link to reducing tooth decay. But what is fluoride? And is it really effective and is it safe?

Back in the 1940s, scientists began to look at ways to reduce the high rates of tooth decay in children and adults. They found that fluoride reduced bacteria in the mouth that caused tooth decay. This link has persisted for nearly 75 years. While fluoride is found naturally occurring in some water, it’s usually in trace amounts. But after scientists determined it could be useful in preventing tooth decay, it was added to municipal water sources in larger quantities.

Today, 75 percent of U.S. communities have access to water that’s fluorinated. Additionally, fluoride is added to toothpaste and mouthwash to fill in the gaps in places that do not have access to community fluorination.

Does Fluoride Really Prevent Tooth Decay?

A study published in the 2014 issue of Scientific World Journal found that fluoride interacts with hydroxyapatite, which is found on the teeth and works to form a substance called fluoroapatite. Fluoroapatite is less susceptible to erosion by acid-producing oral bacteria, which eat away at the teeth and cause tooth decay. According to research from the American Dental Association, fluoride reduces dental decay by 20 to 40 percent.

Is Fluoride Dangerous?

The amount of fluoride that’s added to drinking water was initially 0.7 to 1.2 mg of fluoride per liter of water, but that number was reduced to 0.7 in 2015 because people are now able to get fluoride from other sources like toothpaste. Additionally, long term high levels of fluoride can cause a condition called skeletal fluorosis, where fluoride builds up in the bones and teeth causing stiffness and pain and even weak bones. Too much fluoride can also cause a condition called dental fluorosis in children which permanently prevents tooth enamel from forming.

Additionally, according to the American Cancer Society research has shown a small link between fluoride consumption and osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The link came from a small trial in the 1990s put out by the U.S. Toxicology Program. Researchers found an “equivocal” or uncertain link between fluorinated water and osteosarcoma.

But more than 50 large studies have been done on the link and none have found a true connection between fluorinated water and cancer. More specifically, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization did not find any link between cancer and fluoride.

But that’s not the end of it. A large study published in Environmental Health Perspectives did find a link between adverse neurodevelopment in rat pups and exposure to fluoride. The study found a reduction in IQs in rat pups compared to those not exposed to fluoride. The study also found that dosing that’s considered safe for adults, may not be safe for children.

The bottom line is that fluoride on balance has not been shown to be a carcinogen and it has been shown to be good for reducing tooth decay in the right amounts. But while much more research needs to be done on the subject, there is room for concern around neurodevelopment of children exposed to fluoride. Not to mention that excessive fluoride is directly linked to bone and teeth issues. That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Dental Association all consider fluorinated water safe for children and adults.

Check your water to see the levels of fluorination here, so you know where your levels fall. Well water in some locations may have too much fluoride and should also be tested. If you’re skeptical about fluorinated water or just unfiltered water in general, choose a water filtration system like reverse osmosis or water distillation.

Choosing the Right Toothpaste

Most dentists agree that choosing toothpaste with fluoride has far more benefits than risks, but that choice, given the research documented above, is up to you. If you’ve never had an issue with tooth decay then you might not think you need it. It also helps to weigh how much fluoride you’re getting from other sources. Avoid these ingredients when choosing a natural toothpaste:

  • Silica

Silica is an ingredient used in many toothpastes that’s supposed to whiten teeth. It’s overly harsh on tooth enamel and should be avoided.

  • Triclosan

Tricolosan is a known endocrine disruptor that has little benefit in toothpaste. It’s unnecessary and risky so it’s best to avoid it.

  • Tartar control

Tartar control toothpaste often contains an ingredient called tetrasodium pyrophosphate, which can be overly harsh on your teeth.

Other ingredients to avoid include:

    • Sodium lauryl sulfate
    • Artificial flavors and colors
    • Artificial sweeteners
    • Propylene glycol

Good brands to look for include Jason’s Natural Toothpaste, Botanique Toothpaste, and Nature’s Gate.

Other Tips for Good All Natural Dental Care

Taking care of your teeth is about more than just a good toothpaste. Here are some great tips to get you started:

  • Start your day oil pulling.

Start by swishing a teaspoon of coconut oil in your mouth for as long as you can in the morning. Begin with ten minutes and try to expand the time to 20 minutes. Swish back and forth across your teeth and gums. It’s great for reducing the oral bacteria that causes tooth decay as well as whitening your teeth naturally.

  • Floss daily.

Recent research has called this into question, but most dentists still contend that flossing daily reduces the build up of bacteria hidden in the crevices of the teeth that can cause gingivitis.

  • Avoid sugar and carbonation.

Sugar is amazing at destroying your teeth. The carbonation found in soda along with the sugar is even worse. Cut sugar sweetened beverages like soda out of your diet because they aren’t good for you or your teeth.

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