According to the CDC’s 2012 Water fluoridation statistics, nearly 75% of the U.S. population receives fluoride in their community water systems.  That’s an increase of almost 25% since 2001, according to Mittleman, Mittleman, and Barilla (2001).  While many applaud this move, some scientists and doctors of dentistry are refuting what they call “50 years of misinformation,” (Forbes, 1999).  Now, fifteen years later, why is the majority still clinging to the idea that lots of fluoride is good for us?  What’s the truth, and what should we do?

What is fluoride?

According to Wikipedia:

  1. Chemical Compound
  2. Fluoride, is an inorganic anion of fluorine with the chemical formula F− . It contributes no color to fluoride salts. Fluorite is roughly 49% fluoride by mass, making fluoride the main component of fluorite apart from calcium ions.

Where does it come from? 

Fluoride is naturally-occurring in phosphorus rock.

According to the CDC, all types of sodium fluoride used for municipal water treatment are a by-product (waste) material derived from fertilizer manufacturing.  The EPA says on their own website, that although the ingredients are caustic, (able to burn or corrode organic tissue by chemical action) sodium fluoride is favored because it’s cheap and easily dissolved into water.

Fluoride Research

Fluoride research began in the 1940’s when scientists discovered that children in Colorado and Texas had disfigured teeth, yet fewer cavities than kids with white teeth.  After testing the local water, they discovered that the kids with discoloration had higher levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in their drinking water.  Politicians at that time used this discovery as a push in their campaigns by promising to add fluoride to local water if elected.

Unfortunately, “The Public Health Service never finished the studies that were supposed to show the benefits of fluoride in drinking water. They stopped, because in some of the cities without fluoride, children had fewer cavities. They just dropped these cities from their reports—an action that would get any other scientist thrown out of the scientific community or even prosecuted,” (Mittleman, Mittleman, & Barilla, pp. 187).   It seems at this time we have determined that fluoride can help prevent cavities in those at risk, but know little else about what levels are necessary for doing so.  What we do know is that Americans are exposed to a lot of fluoride, and adverse health effects from high-level exposure are more common than many realize.

How Fluoride Gets Into Our Bodies

Daily fluoride intake in humans is mostly from city water and food.  Black tea (1 cup) and table wine (1 bottle), are the biggest food culprits, offering levels of about 1 milligram, more or less, of fluoride. Raisins, russet potatoes, lamb, and carrots are also known for significant levels of fluoride. Eating these foods results in a higher level of fluoride in the body. However, according to Ming-Ho Yu, Ph.D, of the Center for Environmental Science at Western Watshington University in Bellingham, WA, “naturally-occurring fluoride is less likely to be absorbed by the body, while sodium fluoride, the compound found in municipal water is “almost 100% soluble and is absorbed at much greater levels,”(Mittleman, Mittleman, Barilla, pp. 184).

It’s important to keep in mind that many fruits and vegetables are grown with and cleaned by fluoridated water on the farm and in your home, which increase food’s sodium fluoride content. Pesticides contain fluoride. Meat can be a suspect. Mechanically-deboned chicken contains a high level of fluoride due to an increase amount of bone particles in the meat (such as in chicken nuggets), and even the pan cooking the food can be to blame.  A 1975 study showed foods boiled in Teflon pans had an increased amount of fluoride.

Even though food is an easy target, the sodium fluoride levels in community water are much higher than any food: about 2.5 mg in only three liters of water (the average daily intake of humans).

Besides food, oral health products, and water; fluoride poisoning in children comes from ingesting some types of vitamins, etching creams, or roach powder by accident.  Even adults can be exposed to too much fluoride.  Several pharmaceutical drugs contain a carbon-fluorine bond. In many cases, this chemical is not absorbed by the human body, but sometimes it is.  Drugs like Cipro are most widely known for containing a significant amount of carbon-fluorine.

Toothpaste Trouble

Let’s not forget the fluoride in toothpaste, much of which is absorbed or swallowed, and we start to become alarmed at the high level of sodium fluoride in our bodies. Most toothpaste is made with sodium fluoride, while a few contain stannous fluoride instead.

Stannous fluoride has been shown to be more effective against preventing cavities due to its antimicrobial effect.  In other words, it helps kill bacteria in the mouth along with protecting and rebuilding enamel.  Stannous fluoride is usually reserved for people who have medical conditions that contribute significantly to tooth decay.  The reason stannous fluoride isn’t commonly found in toothpaste is because the original formulation contained tin, which tasted bad, stained teeth, and was gritty.  Most of us know that tin is not good for human health.  A few years ago, Proctor and Gamble reformulated stannous fluoride without tin and some manufacturers began putting it in over-the-counter toothpaste. Sadly, the new formulation of stannous fluoride can also badly stain teeth.  Although studies have shown that a dose of stannous fluoride less than 1 mg per day is “safe,” we don’t know what dose is toxic.  If left on teeth long enough, any dose of stannous fluoride can cause damage to tooth pulp near a cavity.

“In the 1950’s, any toothpaste containing fluoride had to carry a warning label saying that the toothpaste should not be used if local water was fluoridated.  This warning disappeared in the late 1950’s,” (Mittleman, Mittleman, & Barilla).

According to dental hygienist Patti Gibbons in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, “Children between the ages of 2 and 6 tend to swallow 35% of their toothpaste when a normal amount is applied to their toothbrush.  Not only can this amount cause nausea and a stomach ache, but a child could be swallowing up to 1 milligram or more of fluoride at each brushing.” She found a report that said “Flouride is considered more toxic than lead and is fatal in high doses,” (Mittleman, Mittleman, & Barilla).

Some public schools have even begun serving weekly fluoride rinses to school children as a public health “service.”  It’s easy to see how fluoride overload can be a daily occurrence for little ones.

Fluoride Toxicity

Fluoride has been found to be toxic, damaging, and deadly to humans at certain amounts, varying from person-to-person. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that 10 mg per day for adults and .7 to 2.2 mg per day for infants is the safe limit.  When looking at the numbers, (remember the 2.5 mg in tap water, alone?) it’s easy to see how children who drink municipal water or receive formula mixed with tap water and/or and eat a balanced, healthy diet, brush their teeth, or use fluoride rinses could easily receive a toxic level of fluoride over and over again.  Additionally, mothers who breastfeed consume larger amounts of water and the fluoride is found in mothers’ breast milk.  In other words, the more water consumed; the more fluoride in her breast milk; the more fluoride in the infant’s body.

In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency’s union of attorneys, engineers, toxicologists, and biologists voted unanimously to take a stand against fluoridation of public water. They agreed that the scientific evidence showing that fluoride links to lower IQ in kids, neurological problems, genetic mutations, bone diseases, cancers, and bone fractures were reason enough to discontinue fluoridation, as it was deemed excessive and unnecessary.

“Back before there was fluoride in toothpaste, it was decided that water could contain 1 part per million of fluoride and this would give a child who drank a liter of water a day one milligram (mg) of fluoride.  No one considered that a small child would have greater effects from one milligram than a larger child has, or that a child could drink more than one liter of water a day.  Even at 1 mg a day, health professionals knew that 10% of all children would have fluoride poisoning,”(Mittleman, Mittleman, & Barilla, pp. 187).

Signs and Symptoms of Fluoride Toxicity or Poisoning

Fluorosis is the most recognizable symptom of fluoride overload in the body.  According to the Fluoride Alert Organization, “Fluorosis is a defect of tooth enamel caused by too much fluoride intake during the first 8 years of life.”  Fluorosis may start with white streaks or patches on the teeth, followed by brown spotting and pitting. You can view photos of fluorosis here.

To test for fluoride overload, the best way to do this, according to the doctors at, is to use an “elimination diet” of sorts. That is, all possible sources of fluoride should be eliminated.  If symptoms improve in a week, and disappear within several weeks, you will know that they were caused by fluoride toxicity.  Blood serum tests may also be performed by doctors when acute fluoride poisoning is suspected.

According to Nih.Gov, symptoms of toxicity or acute poisoning may include any of the following:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Abnormal Taste (salty or soapy taste)
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Eye Irritation (if placed in eye)
  • Headache
  • Heart Attack
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Shallow Breathing
  • Slow Heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

If you feel someone may have ingested dangerous levels of fluoride, immediately go to your nearest emergency room or call the U.S. Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

How to Detox from Fluoride Overload

If you’re sure immediate medical help isn’t required, here’s how Phyllis Balch, Certified Nutritional Consultant, recommends detoxing:

“Unless otherwise specified, the dosages recommended here are for adults. For a child between the ages of twelve and seventeen, reduce the dose to three-quarters the recommended amount. For a child between six and twelve, use one-half the recommended dose, and for a child under the age of six, use one-quarter the recommended amount,” (pp.317).  For nutrients listed with no dose, follow label instructions.

Very Important Nutrients Include:

A free-form amino acid complex, garlic, raw liver extract, Superoxide dismutase (SOD) or Cell Guard from Biotec Foods, Vitamin B complex injections (prescribed by physician), choline and inositol (50 mg each, three times a day with meals), Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (5,000 to 20,000 mg daily, in divided doses).

Balch also recommends eating organic, high-fiber foods, and only drinking steam-distilled water (pp. 318).

How to Avoid Fluoride Overload

Since the largest amount of harmful sodium fluoride comes from municipal drinking water, the first and most obvious step is to discontinue using water straight from the tap.  A water filter can help, but not all filters remove fluoride.  Activated carbon filters do not.  Only reverse osmosis, activated alumina, and deionizers are effective at taking away about 90% of fluoride. If filtering isn’t an option, purchasing spring water is the next best thing.  Call the number on the label of your spring water to ask about the level of fluoride. It should be less than .2 to .1 parts-per-million.  The very best way to remove fluoride is to run it through a distillation system. These systems can be pricey, though.

The second item concerns dental products.  Do not ever allow your child to swallow toothpaste or mouthwash.  Flavored (ex: bubblegum or fruit-flavored) toothpastes tend to be the most tempting to swallow and contain the highest amount of fluoride (some as much as an adult dose).  Instead choose toothpaste with a low amount or no fluoride, and always supervise your children when using these products.

At the dentist’s office, decline gel fluoride treatments.  The amount of saliva produced while holding a tray in the mouth makes it difficult, if not impossible, to avoid swallowing over a period of a few minutes.  Fluoride treatments should only be used in cases of extreme necessity.

Here are a few more things to do:  eat fresh organic foods, don’t cook with Teflon pans, opt for young “white” teas vs. older “black” teas. Ask for alternatives to drugs with fluoride such as Cipro, and keep all craft supplies and insecticides out of the reach of children.


While fluoride does potentially offer benefits due to its ability to increase resistance to tooth decay in people deemed at risk, (Balch, 2006) experts posit that we already receive enough, if not too much, fluoride through a combination of water treatment, foods, environmental exposure, and dental products.

(Photo courtesy of judge_mental via Flickr.)

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Sources not hyperlinked in this article:

Balch, P. (2006).  Prescription for nutritional healing. Fourth Edition.  Penguin Group. New York, NY.

Forbes, B. (Sunday, December 5, 1999). Mesa Tribune.

Mittleman, J., Mittleman, B., Barilla, J. (2001). Healthy teeth for kids. A preventative program: prebirth through the teens.  Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY. 

Chapter 10, Fluoride: How Safe? How Effective? Was written by two DDS’s and an MS to help explain the history of fluoride use, the research behind it, the dangers of fluoride toxicity, and how to detect toxicity.