What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is an ionic compound of fluorine, a substance found naturally in many rocks and the Earth’s crust. The minerals and salts of fluoride help create numerous industrial chemicals. For example, fluoride is a component of hydrogen fluoride for fluorocarbons.
Fluorine's low dissociation energy makes it a highly reactive element, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. In its native form, fluorine is a pale yellow gas that reacts with most organic and inorganic compounds that it touches.
According to a recent article published in the scientific journal Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, fluoride protects teeth by altering tooth enamel's structure to make it less susceptible to degradation. Many foods we eat are acidic, and a small amount of fluoride on your teeth provides prolonged protection from acidic decay. Most kinds of toothpaste contain fluoride for this reason.
Fluoride in Water History
The public associates fluoride with dental care because agencies add the compound to municipal water supplies to prevent tooth decay and cavities. In the early 20th century, scientists discovered that people living in communities with naturally fluoridated water tended to have fewer cavities than those without fluoridated water.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Grand Rapids, Mich., was the first American city to add fluoride to its water supply in 1945. And according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), about 80% of homes that use municipal water systems have fluoridated water.
Adding fluoride to public water supplies is an action endorsed by several groups, including the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Medical Association, and the CDC.
However, many cities in the U.S. have voted to stop fluoridating their local water supplies, arguing that the action isn’t necessary and could potentially cause harm, as reported by USA Today.
An article from the scientific journal Preventive Medicine and Food Science discusses the fluoride in water pros and cons. While fluoride in small amounts undoubtedly protects tooth enamel, there are reasons why communities oppose fluoridating their water supply:
- Fluoride intake in fluoridated water is uncontrollable, so people receive varying doses regardless of their age and health.
- Excessive fluoride intake may cause dental fluorosis.
- Fluoride benefits are topical, so it is better to apply fluoride directly to the teeth via toothpaste.
- Not all systems provide information on the amount of fluoride added to the public drinking water.
How Much Fluoride Is in My Water?
Simply put, the fluoride level in your tap water can vary, as some utilities do not report measurements. The only way to determine how much fluoride is in your water is to conduct a water test if your water quality report does not include this information.
In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 99.8% of public American drinking water has fluoride content below 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L). In 2015, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended reducing the fluoridation of public drinking water to 0.7 mg/L. The organization acknowledged that the general population has access to fluoride through toothpaste and mouth rinses.
This recommendation does not mean that utilities always add 0.7 mg/L of fluoride to your water. Practices differ across the country. Maintaining a consistent fluoride level in the public water supply is challenging due to fluorine’s reactive qualities.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a maximum contaminant level for fluoride at 4 mg/L, the WHO recommends a maximum fluoride value of 1.5 mg/L to minimize dental fluorosis.
Is Fluoride Necessary?
Exposure to small amounts of fluoride is safe. But is fluoridated water necessary for improved dental health?
Adding fluoride to the public water supply to prevent tooth decay is not a universally accepted practice. Select European countries, like Germany, stopped fluoridating their water in the 1970s, while others, like France, never started. According to The Guardian, only four continental European countries support national water fluoridation.
According to a study published in the scientific journal Critical Public Health, the WHO compiled data that show the rate of tooth decay around the world decreases steadily, regardless of the fluoridation of the water supply.
As disclosed by the Acting Managing Director of Helsinki Water, the official position of Finland is, “we do not favor or recommend fluoridation of drinking water. There are better ways of providing the fluoride our teeth need.”
Gerda Hankel-Khan of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany noted in a letter in 1999: “Generally, in Germany, fluoridation of drinking water is forbidden... the argumentation of the Federal Ministry of Health against a general permission of fluoridation of drinking water is the problematic nature of compulsory medication.”
Effects of Fluoride
Small amounts of fluoride are considered safe by those in the dental industry. However, people who drink fluoridated water and use dental products like toothpaste that contain fluoride may be ingesting more than is needed. Toothpaste approved by the ADA is guaranteed to have an adequate amount of fluoride in each tube of toothpaste. If you brush your teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, the extra fluoride in your water is unnecessary.
While fluoride is not a severe health concern, many homeowners and parents may try to limit the amount of fluoride their children consume through their tap water.
Fluoride in Bottled Water
Depending on the source of the water, bottled water brands may contain fluoride. The testing standards of public drinking water do not apply to bottled water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the bottled water industry instead of the EPA.
Bottled water companies are not required by the FDA to indicate if their brands have fluoride added to the water. Instead of buying bottled water and contributing to plastic waste, filter the tap water in your own home to enjoy water with reduced fluoride levels.
How to Test Your Water for Fluoride
If you get your drinking water from a private well, you must be proactive and test the water yourself — the EPA does not regulate well water. According to the Groundwater Foundation, homeowners should test domestic wells at least once a year. Fluoride occurs naturally, so the groundwater that your well utilizes could have a high concentration of fluoride.
There are multiple testing options if you are concerned about the concentration of fluoride in your drinking water. You can contact your city or county health department to request a free test for your well water. If these services are not available in your area, we recommend our 16-Point Rapid Water Test. This affordable water test will measure the levels of fluoride in your drinking water.
After reading your water quality analysis report, it’s best to contact the lab that conducted the testing if you have any questions. Test your water for fluoride today with a water test kit from Pentair Water Solutions.
How to Reduce Fluoride in Water
Reducing fluoride in your water is a complex chemical process. Boiling your water before use can eliminate or reduce some contaminants, but you cannot remove fluoride by boiling water, as reported by the EPA. If you choose to reduce the amount of fluoride in your tap water, you will need to invest in a proper filtration system.
The EPA recommends that families that want to remove fluoride from their water use water treatment solutions like distillation filters and reverse osmosis filters.
Water Filters to Address Fluoride
If you decide to reduce the amount of fluoride in your home drinking water after conducting a water test, consider one of these options:
- Whole House Fluoride Filter - This whole house system uses high-grade carbon to reduce fluoride in your drinking water. Standard carbon filters cannot handle fluoride, but this specialized comprehensive filter system can handle up to 15 gallons per minute (GPM). It can reduce fluoride down to 1 part per million (PPM). Whole house systems have a limited lifetime warranty on the filtration tank and parts.
- FreshPoint GRO-575 Five Stage Reverse Osmosis Systems - This five-stage reverse osmosis system is certified to reduce 80% or more of 60+ contaminants, including fluoride.
You already brush your teeth with fluoride, so why are you drinking it? If you have any questions about our products or fluoride, contact a Pentair Water Solutions expert.