Have you ever wondered what’s in your water when you pour a glass out of the faucet? I mean, it’s just water, right? What you see is what you get? Well, while we might assume that to be the case, there’s more to our water than meets the eye (not that there’s anything to see in the first place).
What is fluoride?
If you’ve never heard of fluoridation, it’s the process of adjusting fluoride levels in water. Okay, but what is fluoride? It’s a natural compound found in many substances, including in sources of water, and is believed to help protect your teeth from cavities. This was discovered in the 1930s when it was found to be giving dental patients brown stains on their teeth that surprisingly was actually preventing tooth decay.
Fluoride has a strong attraction to calcium, which means that when consumed, a large percentage of it is absorbed by calcified tissues (including your teeth). The exact percentage is roughly 50% in healthy adults, but it can go as high as 80% in children who are still developing. This is because their bones and other calcified tissues are still growing, so their bodies require more of it. The remaining percentage of fluoride is removed as waste product via urine.
Natural fluoride levels
As we said, fluoride is found many things, especially in the food that you eat. 100 grams of brewed tea can contain up to 0.37 mg of fluoride, as can the same amount of seedless raisins. Knowing how much fluoride your body should be taking in depends on various factors, including your age and weight. Naturally, this is because the level of nutrients required by your body is proportional to your mass. By the time you’re a fully grown adult, your daily intake should either be around 4mg if you’re a man, or 3mg if you’re a woman.
While fluoride levels in water sources were originally low, they’ve been increased through fluoridation to improve the intake for everyone drinking it. Where the process hadn’t been utilized, people’s intakes were between 0.3-1mg per day, which is far lower than they ought to be for a healthy adult.
Fluorides and cavities
If you’re not aware of how cavities occur, there’s not much to it. Bacterium form in the cracks of your teeth, and when they combine with the carbohydrates – namely sugar – you eat, they create acids. These acids dissolve your enamel, and when not combated by standard dental hygiene practices (brushing and flossing), they result cavities.
Fluorides fight this by creating a layer of fluoridated hydroxyapatite on your teeth, which reduces the amount of acid produced by bacteria. Regularly consuming fluoride is a great way to ensure this process continues, which is why increasing the levels in drinking water was once seen as incredible achievement in health.
The dangers of fluoride
The internet has been full of claims that fluoride is dangerous for your health for a number of reasons. While none of these assertions have ever been proven, there are two complications that can arise from excessive fluoride consumption.
The first is the staining of teeth that we mentioned earlier, which happens due to enamel fluorosis. The second, which is slightly more serious, is skeletal fluorosis. This problem develops in stages and leads in muscle wasting and painful joints, however, the level of fluoride required for this to occur is off the scale. Only five cases of it have been identified in the last 35 years, one of whom was consuming 50mg of fluoride a day.
While these cases are still health problems, they’re not something to be extremely concerned about. The question of whether governments should reduce the levels of fluoride in water sources is up in the air, but it ought to be considered seeing how prevalent it is in ingestible products nowadays.
So, is water fluoridation bad for you? To be honest, no. Unless you’re going crazy with your water consumption – which in itself is a health risk – then it’s not going to do you any damage.