Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral in soil, water, air, plants. It also exists as calcium fluoride in the human body, in our bones and teeth. Fluoride is added to dental care products and to the water in many regions, through water fluoridation. Though too much of the mineral can cause problems, fluoride has a lot of potential benefits.

Fluoride Prevents Tooth Decay

Fluoride is mostly known for its ability to fight tooth decay. Researchers believe that fluoride works through a few different mechanisms: it blocks the growth of bacteria in the mouth, prevents the loss of minerals from the tooth, and promotes the repair of the tooth enamel.

smiling woman brushing her teeth


Other Health Benefits of Fluoride

Fluoride also seems to play a role in tooth and bone development and maintenance. Some studies found that drinking water with added fluoride may increase bone mass density and therefore reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has not approves fluoride to prevent osteoporosis, as more research is needed into how fluoride supports bone health.

digital image of a bone with osteoporosis


Water Fluoridation

Fluoride was first added to drinking water several decades ago in the U.S. and other Western countries. About 60% of Americans currently have access to fluoridated water. Health officials assess the safety of fluoride and the recommended levels in the water or other products.

More than 70 percent of a person's fluoride intake comes from drinking fluoridated water if they live in a city that has adopted this process.

wetting a toothbrush under running water in sink


Fluoride In Dental Products

Fluoride is often used in dental products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and various over-the-counter supplements. Dentists may recommend prescription mouth rinses with higher amounts of fluoride to individuals at risk of a lot of cavities.

People who are concerned about fluoride toxicity can ask for fluoride-free alternatives.

woman applying toothpaste to a toothbrush


Dietary Sources Of Fluoride

Foods grown in soil and water that contained fluoride have small amounts of fluoride in them after harvest. Cooking food in fluoridated water can also increase the fluoride content in a food.

Fluoride is also found in the ocean in the form of sodium fluoride, and therefore most seafood contains some fluoride. Additionally, some teas and gelatin contain small amounts of fluoride, and breast milk has very small amounts of fluoride — the required amount for babies is added to formula.

plate full of different kinds of seafood


Signs of Excess Fluoride

In 2015, U.S. officials lowered the fluoride levels in water to level 0.7 parts per million all across that country. This is because excess fluoride is associated with dental fluorosis, which can cause permanent white spots or marks on the teeth, give teeth a chalky appearance, and cause pits in the dental enamel and surface irregularities.

This condition occurs mostly in children age 8 or younger.

close up of child's teeth with white marks from fluoride


Other Safety Concerns

One study found that exposure to fluoridated water early in life has been associated with bone cancer in males. Other research studies link excess fluoride and low IQ scores in children.

A 2019 review of multiple studies found that early life exposure to high fluoride concentrations has a negative impact on children's performance on cognitive tests, and the safe amounts of fluoride are lower than the current recommendations.

soil sample being tested for fluoride content


How To Lower Fluoride Intake

Individuals who are concerned about fluoride toxicity have a few options to decrease exposure to fluoride. Children should avoid swallowing toothpaste or other dental products with added fluoride. Fluoride-free toothpaste and mouthwash are available in health food stores and online.

Special water filters help remove fluoride from the water. Many bottled water brands contain fluoride-free water.

young boy spitting into sink after brushing teeth


Hydroxyapatite Versus Fluoride For Dental Health

Hydroxyapatite exists naturally in the body and also constitutes most of the tooth enamel or dentine. It has similar efficacy with fluoride to reverse tooth decay and maintain dental health. Hydroxyapatite may also help with dental hypersensitivity.

Unlike fluoride, which can become toxic in large quantities, hydroxyapatite is considered safe.

digital image showing makeup of a tooth, including dentine


Other Alternatives To Fluoride

Xylitol, the popular low carbohydrate natural sweetener extracted from corn or birch is a good alternative to fluoride for preventing tooth decay, according to dentists.

Other compounds with documented benefits for tooth health include a special product called Rennou, based on cacao extract, and nano silver.

xylitol crystals


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