Jackie Dana on July 13, 2016 1 Comment Table of Contents What Is Fluoride? How Does Fluoride Work? When Did Cities Start Adding Fluoride to Water? Is All Fluoridated Water The Same? The Fluoride Conspiracy Explained Do We Consume Too Much? How to Remove Fluoride From Your Drinking Water Since the 1940s, people have argued about the benefits of adding fluoride to municipal drinking supplies. Proponents argue that studies show supplemental fluoride reduces cavities and improves dental health. Opponents say that the substance is actually harmful to our health and they call for an end to water fluoridation. In this article, we’re not taking sides. We will review general information about water fluoridation, consider both sides of the debate and let you make the decision on what is best for you and your family. If you decide you’d like to remove fluoride from your drinking water, at the end we’ll share with you a few different home water filtration options that can help you do this. What Is Fluoride? Fluorine is a pale, highly-reactive gas that was first identified in the late 19th century. On the periodic table, Fluorine is the 9th element listed and can be found under the symbol F. The substance that’s added to drinking water is fluoride, which is an ion of fluorine. One of the most common sources of fluoride comes from phosphorite rock. Phosphorite contains apatite, a mineral that has a high phosphate and fluoride content. When heated with sulfuric acid, apatite produces phosphoric acid and gypsum while releasing a gas that contains hydrogen fluoride and silicon tetrafluoride. To produce fluoride, this gas is captured and condensed, eventually producing a solution of water that contains approximately 23% fluorosilicic acid, also known as hydrofluorosilicate or FSA. Fluorosilicic acid is the primary additive used in water fluoridation in the United States. How Does Fluoride Work? Eating carbohydrates encourages the growth of certain bacteria in our mouths that produce acidic substances. In turn, the acid from these bacteria leaches minerals from our teeth, making them weaker and prone to cavities or decay. According to many scientific studies, fluoride interferes with the process of tooth decay by remineralizing tooth enamel, repairing the damage from these bacteria and thereby preventing cavities from forming. In order to distribute fluoride to the entire population, water treatment facilities add small quantities of a fluoride compound to the water at a precise level. These chemicals do not in any way change the taste, smell or appearance of water. Without testing your drinking water, it is impossible to know if there is fluoride in it, and if so, at what concentration. When Did Cities Start Adding Fluoride to Water? In 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, MI tried an experiment. City officials decided to add small amounts of fluoride to their water supply to test the the theory that it would help against tooth decay, especially for children. This experiment lasted for fifteen years, where researchers analyzed the rate of tooth decay and cavities of nearly 30,000 children going to school in Grand Rapids. Before the experiment was even over it was announced that after fluoridation, the overall rate of tooth decay in the children observed dropped over 60 percent. Widely considered to be a breakthrough for oral health, it wasn’t long before cities across the United States jumped on the fluoridation bandwagon. By 1960, over fifty million Americans had fluoride in their drinking water. It revolutionized dentistry and was quickly added to toothpaste and mouthwashes. According to the American Dental Association (PDF), by 2013 over 72% of people in the U.S. lived in areas which fluoridate their water. If you want to know if your municipal water supply is one of the many across the country that fluoridates the water, you can search for your local water supplier on the Centers for Disease Control website. Once you locate your water utility (sorted by state and county), you can then click to find out if the water has been treated and at what concentration. Is All Fluoridated Water The Same? There are three different types of fluoride used by local water treatment facilities. Proponents of fluoridated water say that all forms of the substance commonly added to municipal drinking water are equal in effectiveness and safety. As a result, the form of fluoride added to water usually comes down to budgetary considerations, storage, equipment, and other needs per each treatment facility. 3 Types of Fluoride Additives: Here is a quick explanation of the different types that may be added to your drinking water. Fluorosilicic Acid (F6H2Si) — A water-based solution; it’s also referred to as hydrofluorosilicate, FSA, or HFS. Because it comes in liquid form, it can cost more in shipping than other types, but the overall cost is low, and it is easiest to add to water supplies, making it most popular option for water treatment facilities. Sodium Fluorosilicate (NA2SiF6) — Unlike fluorosilicic acid, this is a dry additive that comes in a powder or fine crystalline form, and must first be dissolved into a liquid solution before adding it to water. It is also known as sodium silicofluoride. Sodium Fluoride (NaF) — This type is also dry and must be dissolved in a liquid before adding to water. Sodium fluoride was the first compound added to drinking water and is the form usually referred to in scientific studies on the safety and effectiveness of fluoride. It is generally more expensive than the other types and can be toxic if ingested or inhaled in larger quantities. This is the least common fluoridation additive used in the United State. The Fluoride Conspiracy Explained Most medical professionals support the fluoridation of public drinking water. Along with motor vehicle safety, identifying the harmful effects of tobacco, and vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control considers fluoridation one of the most important public health advances of the 20th century. Since 1950, the American Dental Association has promoted the benefits of fluoridation and points to studies that show that adding fluoride to public drinking water is not only safe, but also helps reduce tooth decay, prevent cavities and improve overall oral health. Proponents argue that while fluoride can be provided through toothpaste, dental treatments and other means, fluoridating our drinking water offers the best coverage of treatment for those who cannot afford dental care, or for whatever reason, do not visit the dentist on a regular basis. By reducing tooth decay, people have lower medical costs, incur fewer absences from school or work, and experience an overall higher quality of life. But, this is where things start to get tricky. Despite all of the health benefits that fluoride is said to provide, many people question its safety and efficacy, as well as whether the ethic boundaries are being crossed. This opposition started at the beginning, going back to Grand Rapids when health officials first started the discussion of water fluoridation. At the time, it was called a “communist plot” designed to affect the health of Americans. Others simply stated that water fluoridation was unproven, and worried about the unknown effects they would be exposing their family too. Many other conspiracy theories have popped up since the 1940’s, and despite being discredited, continue to cloud the conversation. One common argument against fluoride use suggests that when studies discuss the usefulness or safety of fluoride, they almost never include all forms of fluoride in their research. The majority of studies reference sodium fluoride, which is the least commonly used of the three options for fluoride treatment. There is much less research done on either the benefits or risks of fluorosilicic acid and sodium fluorosilicate. This argument gained steam in 2013, after a Congressional research team (PDF) took a closer look at current fluoridation methods, and issued a report that seamed to question the lack of research on the substance. They examined the different types of fluoride used, the levels at which it is being used at and whether current practices are inadvertently leading to adverse health effects in both infants and adults alike. They concluded that “research gaps” prevented them from making a firm decision on the safety of water fluoridation at current levels and recommended more research be done to “help them fill the gaps” in their evaluation. Whether you want to call it a government conspiracy or simply an overreach by health officials, this controversy shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, some municipalities have started to discontinue the practice of water fluoridation as a direct result of the debate. Do We Consume Too Much? There is little scientific doubt that excess consumption of fluoride can be harmful. The Environmental Protection Agency (PDF) and the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that municipalities maintain a level of fluoride in the water of no more than 0.7 milligrams per liter. Furthermore, fluoride toothpastes in the U.S. carry a warning not to ingest, with instructions to contact poison control if accidental ingestion occurs. When you consider that Americans may ingest far more fluoride than what we drink from the tap, this is a cause of concern for many people. In addition to drinking water, many prepared foods and beverages are made with fluoridated water, we also use toothpaste and mouthwashes with fluoride on a daily basis, and receive the occasional treatment at the dentist. Some health supplements and multi-vitamins even contain it. As a result, consumption may exceed the CDC and other governmental agencies’ recommendations. Fluoride Toxicity & The Science Behind It Why is excessive consumption a problem? Scientific research has shown that consuming excessive amounts of fluoride may cause disorders in the brain, affect your thyroid, impair kidney function, weaken your bones, exasperate gastrointestinal issues, and, in extreme circumstances of toxicity, lead to seizures, respiratory paralysis and death. In one study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the China Medical University in Shenyang examined 27 studies of people living in areas with high levels of fluoride in the water. By cross-referencing these studies, the scientists found evidence to show that excess fluoride reduces children’s cognitive development. In other research, high quantities of fluoride have been shown to have a negative impact on both learning and memory, leading researchers to the conclusion that it may cause neurotoxicity in adults. There is also evidence that fluoride, as well as other commonly consumed minerals, leads to the calcification of the pineal gland. The pineal gland is an organ located in the epithalamus in the center of our brain that produces melatonin, regulates the pituitary gland, and may be the seat of both human creativity and spirituality. However, it must be noted that this study indicated that the pineal calcification varies between individuals, and that further research is underway. Oddly enough, toxicity may also cause problems with our teeth. Outside of potential organ damage, the evidence is undisputed that excessive amounts of fluoride causes dental fluorosis, a mottling or pitting of the enamel on teeth. This condition only affects young children that have yet to grow their permanent teeth. Due to the overwhelming amount of research shedding more light on the benefits and risks of fluoride, opponents of water fluoridation argue that because we still don’t know the effect that it has on the body, nor have we fully researched or distinguished the appropriate levels of various types used during fluoridation, that it is not ethical or safe to add to the water supply. We would strongly encourage you to research water fluoridation methods, especially those used in your area, as well as test your drinking water. By doing this, you will have a better idea of how much fluoride you and your family is consuming. This valuable piece of information will allow you to make an informed decision on whether you need to filter it out of your water. How to Remove Fluoride From Your Drinking Water Are You Drinking Fluoride-Free Water? If you decide that you need to do something to reduce your family’s consumption of fluoride, then there are a few things you can do. The obvious ones are to reject fluoride treatments at the dentist and choose a fluoride-free toothpaste. Also take a closer look at any health supplements and vitamins you may be taking. Removing fluoride from drinking water poses a bit more of a challenge, but isn’t impossible. Fluoride is, indeed, one of the more difficult minerals to filter out of water. There are some studies that show that home filtration units that incorporate activated alumina or bone char can remove at least some fluoride from the water. Water pitcher filters and faucet-mounted filters that rely on activated charcoal, however, cannot remove fluoride. Additionally, you cannot remove fluoride by boiling your water, as it does not evaporate like chlorine and some other contaminants. The two recommended methods to remove fluoride from your drinking water at home are distillation and reverse osmosis. For your average homeowner, a reverse osmosis system will be the best route. You have plenty of options to choose from, ranging from countertop, free-standing and under-the-sink filtration systems, and they are all designed to purify your drinking water. As long as you’re replacing your filters on a regular basis, a reverse osmosis system is the easiest way to remove fluoride in your water and ensure that your family is drinking clean and safe water.