Fluoride | Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Fluoride

Fluoride is created when salts from the element fluorine combine with minerals in soil or rocks. Due to its simple origins, fluoride is found naturally in soil, water and many foods. It also occurs naturally in the human body in bones and teeth. It is added to public water systems and toothpastes because it helps in the fight against tooth decay.

Uses & Benefits

Fluoride works by making tooth enamel stronger and by replacing essential minerals that are lost in teeth that have started to decay. Fluorinated water supplies and toothpaste are so effective that that they have been credited as part of the dramatic drop in tooth decay and cavity occurrence that has taken place over the past 50 years.

Although nearly all water naturally contains a small amount of fluoride, the amount is not always at what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers to be the optimal level for tooth decay prevention. The CDC and other public health experts state that fluoride in the amount of 0.7 milligrams per liter in water helps prevent tooth decay.

To reach this recommended level, many municipal water systems add fluoride to the local drinking water supply, a process known as water fluoridation. The CDC named community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), studies show that fluoride in community water systems prevent at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults alone, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste.

Fluoride added to toothpaste helps to strengthen tooth enamel (the hard surface of the tooth), making it easier to prevent tooth decay or gum disease often caused by excess plaque.

Safety Information

According to the CDC, the safety and benefits of fluoride are well documented. For more than 70 years, people in the United States have benefited from drinking water with added fluoride, leading to better dental health. Community water fluoridation is also endorsed by many public health, medical, and dental organizations including the American Dental Association (ADA), American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Public Health Service and World Health Organization (WHO).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines standards for drinking water safety, including those for fluoride. Toothpastes, and other dental products such as mouthwash that have fluoride as an ingredient to prevent tooth decay, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, the ADA offers a certification that toothpastes are safe and effective.

Fluoride-containing products should be used as directed. The CDC recommends that very young children (under age 6) not use fluoride mouth rinse, unless directed to do so by a dentist or doctor.

Answering Questions

Is fluoride in my drinking water safe?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and many other public health organizations (including the American Dental Association, U.S. Public Health Service, and World Health Organization) say fluoride deliberately added to drinking water is safe and has a proven and substantial public health benefit, even for small children and babies.

Although fluoride has been added to water supplies for decades to prevent tooth decay, some parents and consumers may have concern. According to the CDC, the “safety and effectiveness of community water fluoridation continues to be supported by scientific evidence produced by independent scientists and summarized by panels of experts. The independent, non-governmental Community Preventive Services Task Force has noted that fluoride research evidence does not demonstrate that community water fluoridation results in any unwanted health effects other than dental fluorosis, a condition that causes primarily cosmetic changes in the appearance of tooth enamel.”

EPA regulates fluoride in drinking water “to protect public health.” The decision to add fluoride to drinking water is made at the state or local level. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), “more than 70 years of scientific research has consistently shown that an optimal level of fluoride in community water is safe and effective”.

If my family drinks mostly bottled water and not tap, are we getting enough fluoride?

According to the CDC, bottled water may not have a sufficient amount of fluoride, which is important for preventing tooth decay and promoting oral health. If you have questions about whether your bottled water contains fluoride, contact the bottled water’s manufacturer or the brand depicted on the label to ask about fluoride content.

How do I learn more about the fluoride in my drinking water?

Your water bill or local water utility customer service is a good starting point for information. EPA requires all municipal water systems and other water suppliers to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report (sometimes called a CCR or water quality report) for their customers by July 1 of each year.

What is the difference between fluoride and fluorine?

Sometimes there is confusion about the difference between fluorine and fluoride. The element fluorine is a pale, yellow gas found naturally in the Earth’s crust. It is highly reactive, meaning it can combine with nearly any element on Earth.

Fluoride is chemically related to fluorine, but they are not the same. Fluoride is a different chemical compound. Fluoride is created from salts that form when fluorine combines with minerals in soil or rocks. Fluoride is usually very stable and relatively unreactive, unlike its chemical relative fluorine. Any chemical compound that contains the fluoride ion is also known as a fluoride, such as calcium fluoride (CaF2) and sodium fluoride (NaF).0