Fluoride is a trace mineral with a controversial reputation. Fluoride is found naturally in soil, water, foods, and several minerals, such as fluorapatite and fluorite. It’s most well-known function is its role in dental health. Fluoride helps repair soft enamel and provides a protective barrier between your teeth and acids in your mouth and the foods you eat. Every day, minerals are added to and lost from a tooth’s enamel layer through two processes, demineralization and remineralization. Minerals are lost (demineralization) from a tooth’s enamel layer when acids — formed from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth — attack the enamel. Minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate are redeposited (remineralization) to the enamel layer from the foods and waters consumed. Too much demineralization without enough remineralization to repair the enamel layer leads to tooth decay. Adult men need 3.8 milligrams of fluoride each day, while adult women need 3.1 milligrams daily. Food does not provide a lot of fluoride. Most of the trace mineral comes from fluoridated water and tea.

In the early 1930s, scientists found that people who were brought up in areas with naturally fluoridated water had up to two-thirds fewer cavities compared to those who lived in areas where the water was not fluoridated. In 1945 Grand Rapids, Michigan became the world’s first city to adjust the level of fluoride in its water supply. Since that time, fluoridation has improved the oral health of tens of millions of Americans. Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. Approximately 74.6% of the U.S. population served by public water systems receive the benefit of optimally fluoridated water. While many get what they need from fluoridation of community water sources, those with well water need to get their fluoride from another source as it does not contain enough. Today, studies prove water fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by at least 25%, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinses. Mouth rinses containing fluoride in lower strengths are available over-the-counter; stronger concentrations require a doctor’s prescription. Other sources of fluoride include any food prepared in fluoridated water. Natural sodium fluoride is in the ocean, so most seafood contains fluoride. Tea and gelatin also contain fluoride.

The debate over whether fluoridated water is doing more harm than good is an interesting one. Excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride during tooth development during childhood can result in tiny white streaks or specks in the enamel of the tooth in mild cases of dental fluorosis. In severe cases of dental fluorosis, the tooth has more evident discoloration and brown markings. The enamel may be rough and pitted, and difficult to clean. The spots and stains, which are permanent, may eventually darken. The greatest concern is the aesthetic changes that occur in the permanent teeth among children who are exposed to too much fluoride between the ages of 20 and 30 months. According to dentists, the critical period of fluoride exposure is between 1 and 4 years of age – the risk goes away after the age of 8 years. But how can one monitor their daily fluoride intake to know if they are getting enough?

Many also question whether the benefits of fluoridated water for the prevention of tooth decay may be wreaking havoc on our bones. Since the 1930s it has been known that high fluoride intake causes excessive bone growth, which can result in joint pain, bone pain, and stiffness. The symptoms indicative of early clinical stage skeletal fluorosis are difficult to distinguish from arthritis but include burning, prickling, and tingling in your limbs, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, reduced appetite and weight loss.

The results of more than five epidemiological studies indicate increased hip fractures in both naturally and artificially fluoridated areas. The incidence of hip fracture is also increasing more rapidly than can be accounted for by aging of the population. There are numerous studies which undeniably prove that fluoride’s cumulative effect on bone is devastating. It is well known that chronic ingestion of fluoride can cause osteofluorosis or skeletal fluorosis, a crippling bone disease. This evidence has been reported in at least nine studies from five countries.

Symptoms of second clinical stage of skeletal fluorosis include stiff joints and/or constant pain in your bones, brittle bones, osteosclerosis, anemia, osteoporosis in the long bones, bony spurs in limb bones around knees elbows, tibia, and ulna as well as calcification of tendons, or ligaments of ribs and pelvis.

In advanced skeletal fluorosis also called crippling skeletal fluorosis, your extremities become weak and moving your joints difficult. Your vertebrae partially fuse together,crippling you. You also have a heightened risk of developing problems from even mild exposure to fluoride, such as bone fractures, if you are elderly, are deficient in calcium, magnesium, and/or vitamin C, have cardiovascular problems or kidney problems.