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Is Fluoride Safe?

Fluoride is the salt form of hydrofluoric acid. It consists of two elements, one of which is fluorine. The most common form is sodium fluoride, chemically written as NaF.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring compound found in water sources including rivers, lakes, and oceans. It’s also present in some foods and drinks, but the levels vary widely. Fluoride is a natural cavity fighter, and to help protect teeth, it’s added to some dental products such as toothpaste, as well as to many sources of drinking water.

Here at Advanced Dental Care of Austin, our expert dental providers provide fluoride treatments for our patients to help protect their teeth. But we often get asked about the safety of using fluoride, both in the dental setting and in our drinking water. We’d like to set the record straight about fluoride supplementation, so we’ve put together this informational guide to help you navigate the topic.

What benefits does fluoride have for teeth?

Before teeth erupt through the gums — primary, adult, or wisdom teeth — the fluoride taken in from foods, drinks, and dietary supplements makes their hard shell, called the enamel, stronger. This allows the teeth to more easily resist decay, providing a systemic benefit.

After teeth erupt, fluoride assists with rebuilding (remineralizing) weak tooth enamel and reversing the early signs of tooth decay. When you brush with a fluoride toothpaste, or use other fluoride dental products such as mouth rinses or a fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office, you apply the fluoride to your teeth’s surface. This provides a topical benefit.

A third benefit is that the fluoride you consume with foods and drinks becomes part of your saliva. That saliva constantly bathes the teeth with small amounts of fluoride that help shore up and rebuild weakened tooth enamel.

Why add fluoride to the water supply?

Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first community to add fluoride to its drinking water in 1945. That came after years of study into why certain communities seemed more resistant to dental caries than others; it turns out the higher the fluoride concentration, the more resistant to caries the residents’ teeth became.

Community water fluoridation refers to the addition of fluoride to drinking water as a means of increasing the natural fluoride level to the level recommended to help prevent cavities. It’s a cost-effective public health method to improve dental health. As of 2012, almost 75% of the US population was served by fluoridated community water systems.

Even with community-supported fluoridation, a 2000 US Surgeon General report estimated that American students lose 51 million school hours per year because of dental-related illness. Without fluoridation, the number would probably be much higher.

The American Dental Association (ADA) considers water fluoridation the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay, and studies indicate it continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by at least 25% in children and adults — that’s even with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as toothpaste and dental rinses.

But what about safety?

Fluoride can be toxic in large doses, so many people worry that even its well-intentioned addition to the water supply could be a health hazard. However, over 70 years of research and data from thousands of studies prove this isn’t the case.

Toxicity depends on dose. Many common substances essential to life — salt, oxygen, iron, and water, among others — are toxic in massive quantities, and so is fluoride. However, the concentration of fluoride added to the water supply falls way below what’s toxic.

A toxic level of sodium fluoride is considered to be 11mg/kg of body weight. If the water supply were fluoridated at 1 mg/L, a person would need to drink five liters of water for every kilogram of body weight at one time. That means an adult male of 70.3kg would have to drink over 350 liters (almost 93 gallons) at one time to reach a toxic dose. 

Water fluoridation, now set at 0.7 mg/L, would take nearly 120 gallons to be toxic, and it’s virtually impossible for any person to consume that much. Fluoride, as is currently supplied in community fluoridation initiatives, is completely safe for both children and adults.

The bottom line is that fluoride, as consumed in food, added to the water supply, added to dental products, and used as a dental treatment in-office, is both safe and effective at reducing the risk of dental caries.

If you want to find out more about fluoride, or if you wish to schedule a dental exam, contact Advanced Dental Care of Austin by calling 512-331-1477, or by booking your appointment online. Your health is our top priority.

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