Why Use Fluoride?
It’s no secret that fluoride consumption is a major source of controversy all over the developed world, and has been for some time now. Between the growing popularity of homeopathic, holistic health practices and mounting concern over government interference in the daily lives of its citizens, fluoride grows more polarizing as a conversation topic by the day. It’s become a hot button issue in the arena of public policy. Currently 138 countries around the world choose not to use fluoride in their public water supplies, and many have actually banned it. Since 1990, 302 communities in the U.S. alone have voted to ban using fluoride as an additive to their public water supplies. Every year tens of millions of dollars are spent to influence voters on the issue of water fluoridation.
Because these political battles tend to dominate the headlines, many people don’t stop to think about the impact of their exposure to fluoride through the products they pay for at the grocery store and their dentist’s office. If fluoride exposure is a public health concern, then it stands to reason that it should be every bit as much of a private health concern. At most, you’ll vote on the issue of fluoridation once per year, but you make consumer decisions regarding fluoride on a very regular basis.
The reason this debate is so difficult to resolve is that there are two conflicting yet stipulated facts at the heart of the matter. Fluoride use can be beneficial from a dental health standpoint, although the extent to which that is the case is up for debate. Fluoride can also be highly toxic to myriad living organisms, including humans. The big-picture-question when it comes to both fluoride products and water fluoridation is, ‘Is it appropriate for us to seek alternatives to fluoride treatment, and if so, is it practical?’ For some, the bigger questions might be, ‘Why does this matter? Does this really affect me?’
Of course, the primary concern at the front of everyone’s mind is centered around the health ramifications. As mentioned earlier, fluoride is widely reputed to strengthen the teeth and prevent tooth decay, but there has also been much discussion regarding fluoride as a contributing or complicating factor in diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, dementia, fertility problems and much more.
There is also the environmental impact to be considered. In addition to mass water fluoridation, there are well over 200 million people regularly using fluoride products in the United States alone. There is no disputing that this must be causing a dramatic increase in fluoride levels throughout every facet of the environment.
As previously stated, the issue of fluoride is just as much a consumer decision as a policy decision. For most consumers, finances are a significant factor. If we should be seeking fluoride alternatives, are we going to have to pay a lot more for them?
Any time you are weighing the information presented on a hotly debated topic like this one, it seems that there are two skills that are truly invaluable. One is to consider the motivation of the presenter. When it comes to fluoride, we are for the most part discussing matters of hard science. The problem is, there is a long pattern of powerful people and groups manipulating science to lend credibility to their own agendas. The other skill is the ability to play devil’s advocate. There is inherent value in the ability to consider the possibility that your stance may not be the correct one.
If you’re familiar with our practice, you know that the issues pertaining to fluoride are important ones to use, as we have posted articles on fluoride before. In this three part series of articles, we will broach the topic of fluoride from every angle, examining how our choices regarding fluoride impact our lives in terms of our health, our environment, and our finances. We will also shed some light on the political and economic dynamic of the fluoride debate today and discuss the big picture ramifications of making a mistake with your decision.
Health Implications of Fluoride
To dentists and various other fluoride apologists, the reason for using fluoride is rather simple and straightforward: Everyone knows that it strengthens your teeth and prevents cavities! That’s why it’s been in our toothpaste and other dental hygiene products for decades. It would be difficult to refute that fluoride has the immediate effect of strengthening your teeth, as it serves as a remineralizing agent. However, recent studies have shown that fluoride is far less effective in preventing tooth decay than previously believed. Even if this weren’t the case, we as a society have long progressed beyond the point where our only criteria for ingesting a substance is that it have a beneficial effect. Cocaine causes increased energy and heightened alertness, but we certainly don’t want to start putting that into the water supply.
If we know the benefit that we are looking for from fluoride, one logical approach might be to look to possible alternatives from which we can get the same effect and assess whether the same risks and concerns pertain to said alternatives. As we mentioned in a previous article, Vitamin D is an excellent alternative to fluoride treatment. It is of course something our body needs for numerous purposes anyway. Many people will be pleased to hear that cocoa contains an ingredient that remineralizes teeth, making some forms of chocolate a viable alternative to fluoride! Baking soda does a wonderful job of preventing tooth decay. Actually there are many excellent and well established alternatives to fluoride treatment. In fact, our BreathDr line of all natural, fluoride-free dental hygiene products is always available at our practice, and we are able to consistently provide top-notch dentistry without subjecting our patients to unnecessary fluoride exposure.
The other side of the health issue that must be examined is the negative impact that fluoride can have on the human body. Both sides recognize fluoride as a potentially toxic substance that can have negative effects on the gastrointestinal, neurological and cardiovascular systems. Knowing this, it isn’t hard to understand why fluoride has a long and consistent history of having been used as a pesticide. Fluoride has such an influence over the thyroid that it has been effectively prescribed to decrease thyroid activity. While one of dental fluoride’s primary functions is to strengthen the teeth, it can actually have a decidedly negative impact on osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are cells that form the foundation of our bone and tooth development. This leads to fractures and discoloration of bones and teeth. Fluoride can complicate diabetes by increasing blood glucose levels and hindering glucose metabolism. This occurs at fluoride levels far below that which is generally deemed to be toxic. Truthfully there are far more health risks associated with fluoride exposure than what we have touched on here, but no one really disputes the fact that it is a dangerous substance. Perhaps the better question is, do you feel comfortable ingesting poison on a regular basis under the supposition that it’s not enough of the poison to be really poisonous?
Check back with us next week for Part II in our three part series on fluoride, in which we will discuss the environmental and financial implications relative to fluoride use.