Why do they put fluoride in water, and who are ‘they’ anyhow?
To answer the ‘they’ part of this question, we are talking about (in the vast majority of cases) are State run or funded bodies set up as Water Treatment agencies to fulfil a specific function through water treatment facilities.
Most water treatment facilities around the world will add a number of chemicals to local water sources. They will add these chemicals to treat the water and kill off harmful bacteria.
While treating our water to remove harmful bacteria is certainly a good thing, we do need to question what the consequences of adding certain chemicals are, and what these chemicals do to our bodies when we consume the water containing them.
As I write this, I can help but recall the words of wisdom shared with me by a Naturopath in her late 60’s where she said “All medicine is merely poison in small doses.” Meaning, too much of something with an underlying good intention can be harmful.
Before we dive too much deeper into this topic, what you find here is not provided as medical advice. If you have a condition then seek medical support for a trusted and qualified professional. This content is provided as a means for stimulating discussion and learning though further research.
As discussed in our article on the dangers of chlorine in water, adding in chemicals can cause unwanted side effects.
Fluoride is no different.
While it can remove harmful bacteria, it can also cause unwanted side effects. Please keep in mind that water treatment facilities are good for the overall health of the population as they can stop serious diseases and contaminants from entering our drinking water. 
Why do they put Fluoride in Water?
The official story from way back when is that fluoride was added to water to help fight tooth decay. And this is still the popular consensus today.
Fluoride certainly is great for overall oral health and mouth hygiene. However, the official narrative of “fighting tooth decay” is not entirely accurate.
A study published back in 2017 showed some very interesting results which we will refer to throughout this article. As for the conclusion of the study, it was quoted in regards to tooth decay: 
“…it must be emphasized that tooth decay (dental caries) is not caused by fluoride deficiency, and fluoride supplementation will never reverse the active or gross carious lesions.”M. S. Zafar
The original concept of adding fluoride to drinking water came from an observation in 1930. It was observed that communities that had access to drinking water with naturally occurring fluoride had lower rates of tooth decay.
Based on the study’s findings, it is fair to say that this would make sense, as better oral health would lead to a lower chance of tooth decay.
Since 1945, fluoride has been added to water sources around the world in an effort to combat tooth decay. However, the fluoride that is added to water supplies is not the same type of naturally occurring calcium fluoride looked at in this study.
Most treated water sources intended for human consumption will have sodium fluoride added to them instead, which is a synthetic compound. [3, 4]
What is the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Fluoride in Water?
Naturally occurring fluoride (calcium fluoride) in water is formed through rainwater coming in to contact with windblown soils. The soils will provide fluoride to the water source as the soil breaks down.
Synthetic fluoride (sodium fluoride) is a manufactured (man-made) chemical. It is created by engineering a specific reaction where the process involves mixing hydrofluoric acid with sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. It has to be manufactured as this type of fluoride does not occur in nature.
Naturally occurring fluoride is certainly the healthier of the two fluorides. However, excess fluoride consumption from either type can have negative health consequences.
Excess fluoride consumption can lead to a condition called fluorosis. Fluorosis comes in two forms, dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis. [5, 6]
What is Dental Fluorosis and Skeletal Fluorosis?
Dental and skeletal fluorosis are both conditions which are bad for your health. Although one is much worse than the other, both should be avoided/mitigated if possible:
- Dental Fluorosis
Dental fluorosis is usually just cosmetic and only has health concerns beginning at moderate fluorosis. While it is in a weaker state, dental fluorosis will show up as small, white dots/areas on teeth.
As it grows more severe, these dots grow larger and can eventually colour the whole tooth.
The colour can also change from a white to brown, making the tooth look corroded. In more serious cases, teeth can also be permanently weakened and may even have permanent physical damage.
- Skeletal Fluorosis
Skeletal fluorosis is a bone disease which can affect people who intake too much fluoride. The high intake of fluoride could be from multiple sources.
Intakes such as drinking water with high fluoride levels or dental/medical fluoride products are the leading causes of fluorosis. Fluoride fumes inhaled by industry workers can also lead to fluorosis.
Skeletal fluorosis is worse than dental fluorosis, as it targets the bone structure of the body. The major symptom of skeletal fluorosis is less elastic bones.
This simply means less flexibility in bones, resulting in higher chances and frequency of bone fractures, or even bone breaks. It can also lead to stiffer joints, resulting in less and more painful mobility.
We will touch more on the negative effects of fluorides below.
Are there Health Benefits to Fluoride Consumption?
Fluoride is one of the minerals our body needs to function, but keep in mind that the right type of fluoride matters here. There are health benefits for consuming the required amount per day:
- Increased oral health
As previously mentioned, fluoride can increase your oral health. By having cleaner oral hygiene, the number of harmful bacteria in your mouth is reduced. This in turn reduces the chance of tooth decay occurring. 
- Assists in stopping cavities from forming
Healthy fluoride consumption not only increases oral health but can also assist in maintaining a healthy enamel on your teeth. If tooth enamel is worn down, it can result in cavities forming.
- Can increase bone strength
Although too much fluoride can cause less elastic bones, a deficiency in fluoride can cause bones to become weak and brittle. As with all things in life, we require a balance for optimal health.
All the above benefits are said to be achieved through both natural and synthetic fluorides. Personally, I know which one I would prefer to consume!
How Much Fluoride do I Need Daily?
We do not require much per day. A 2017 study conducted in Australia and New Zealand detailed that an average male will need 4mg/day and a female will need 3mg/day. 
Depending on the levels of fluoride in the water source, you would need different amounts of water intake to fulfil this requirement through water alone.
If the water source has the recommended level of fluoride then it would take approximately 4 litres for males and 3 litres for females to intake the required amount.
This can be less however, particularly if you use dental/medical products which contain fluoride.
If you need to check if your water source has fluoride added, you can check the CDC website (for USA readers) to see for yourself. 
Dangers of Fluoride in Drinking Water
While there are some health benefits to having it in drinking water, it can be dangerous for health. Small amounts of fluoride in drinking water are not typically of significant concern to a healthy individual. But high amounts of fluoride in drinking water can cause serious health issues.
For example, in rural locations in India, drinking water is naturally high in fluoride. They also use a type of salt in their foods that are naturally high in fluoride. The Lancet Planetary Health released an article on the high levels of fluorosis occurring in the population. 
The good news is that with a better understanding of fluoride, India is reported as being on track to significantly reduce its number of fluorosis cases. A way to help treat and even reverse fluorosis in children under 12 years of age has been studied. 
Sodium fluoride can cause the same issues as calcium fluoride overconsumption. Although, sodium fluoride can also lead to a number of other health concerns. [12, 13]
Dangers of Sodium Fluoride in Drinking Water
Sodium fluoride is the specific fluoride that is mainly used by water treatment facilities to fluoridate their water. This can be seen as dangerous purely based on the fact that sodium fluoride is classified as an acute toxin and irritant. 
Sodium fluoride is also an ingredient that was present in pesticides and rat poison. This was an application used back in the day largely because it was believed that as a white powder it could be mistaken for flour. 
The previously referenced Harvard Public Health study found in laboratory animals that high levels of fluoride consumption may be toxic to brain and nerve cells. 
FluorideAlert.org also identified a number of studies showing the same results in laboratory animals with high fluoride exposure. They refer to a reduction in intelligence, along with impairments in learning and memory. 
Sodium fluoride can still fill the fluoride need for the human body. However, it is not a naturally occurring form of fluoride and is toxic to the human body. Many official water websites and authorities state sodium fluoride is safe in smaller doses.
Personally, I would prefer to not have the toxic chemical in my water source at all, and would rather rely on the naturally occurring calcium fluoride.
The belief that fluoride in the water is not good for you does hold some truth. While naturally occurring fluoride is healthy for the human body, in the right doses, sodium fluoride does pose some health concerns as an acute toxin and irritant.
Detoxing from Fluoride
Provided you are not already suffering from fluorosis, you can detoxify fluoride from your body. As mentioned earlier, however, you do still need some fluoride intake for your body to perform at optimal healthy levels.
The main thing you would need to do is cut down on your fluoride consumption.
This can be achieved through a number of ways:
- Use fluoride-free products
Oral health items such as toothpaste, mouth wash and some dental flosses contain fluoride. You can easily swap out these items for a fluoride-free alternative. For example, there are plenty of fluoride-free toothpaste products available online.
- Use a water filter/alkalizing unit
If your local water source has fluoride added, you can reduce the amount of fluoride coming out of your tap using a water filter.
These units are great as they not only filter out fluoride but other harmful contaminants as well. They also work well for rainwater to ensure cleaner, safer water.
We have written about alkaline water and the benefits previously. Alkalizing water is an additional benefit to filtering your water.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to naturally occurring spring water which is also alkaline, it can be a great way of adding back in vital minerals taken out during the purification and filtering process.
Water Filters are your Best Protection Against Fluoride Added to Your Tap Water
Avoid edible consumables heavy in fluoride. While detoxing from fluoride, you should review your diet and ensure that you are avoiding foods and drinks high in fluoride.
There are a number foods and drinks which are naturally high in fluoride. Some examples could include: 
- Grape juice
- Sodas (soft drinks – keep in mind that many of these are also very high in sugar)
- Unfiltered tap water
- Shrimp and crab
Ingesting less fluoride will eventually lead to less fluoride in the body. Just be sure you are still in taking some fluoride daily to meet your body’s needs.
Use plants to reduce the absorption rate of fluoride. There are a number of plants you can consume that decrease your body’s absorption rate of fluoride.
Some plants can provide effective mechanisms, particularly such as tamarind (through the leaves) or guava (through the seeds) will help decrease fluoride absorption into your body. [18, 19]
Summing up, fluoride is a necessary mineral which the human body requires. We need to ensure our daily intake is adequate to meet our needs.
With that said, however, we also need to ensure the type and the quality of the fluoride we are consuming is healthy for our bodies.
Calcium fluoride is natural and is only harmful if ingested in large quantities. Sodium fluoride is a man-made chemical added to water supplies and can have undesirable side effects.
Overconsumption of fluoride can lead to fluorosis, which can affect teeth and even your bones.
There are a number of ways to reduce your exposure and intake of fluoride. Avoiding foods high in fluoride or using a water filter over tap water are great starts.
Once fluorosis has occurred in an adult however, detoxing is not guaranteed to work or reverse any of the symptoms.
- “The Untold Story of Fluoridation: Revisiting the Changing Perspectives” – M. P. Unde, R. U. Patil, P. P. Dastoor, September 2018 [PubMed]
- “Potential fluoride toxicity from oral medicaments: A review” – R. Ullah, M. S. Zafar, N. Shahani, 20 August 2017 [PubMed]
- “Group 17 (H, F, Cl, Br, I) Alkaline Earth Compounds” in Encyclopedia of the Alkaline Earth Compounds – R.C. Ropp, 2013 [Science Direct]
- “Water Fluoridation and Cancer Risk” – The American Cancer Society, 28 July 2015 [American Cancer Society]
- “Fluorosis” – Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 March 2019 [CDC]
- “Skeletal fluorosis in humans: a review of recent progress in the understanding of the disease” – K A Krishnamachari, 1986 [PubMed]
- “Dental care; fluoride” – Better Health Channel, 30 April 2012 [Victoria Department of Health]
- “Fluoride (updated 2017)” – Australian Government Department of Health and the New Zealand Ministry of Health, 17 March 2014 [NRV Website]
- “My Water’s Fluoride” – Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]
- “Fluorosis: an ongoing challenge for India” – L. D. Bello, 1 March 2020 [The Lancet]
- “Reversal of fluorosis in children” – S. K. Gupta, R. C. Gupta, A. K. Seth, A. Gupta, October 1996 [PubMed]
- “Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Sodium Fluoride” – New Jersey Department of Health, November 2004 [New Jersey Department of Health]
- “Is Fluoridated Drinking Water Safe?” – Harvard Public Health, 19 July 2016 [Harvard Public Health]
- “Compound Summary: Sodium Fluoride” – PubChem, 25 March 2005 [PubChem]
- “Fluoride: A Review of use and Effects on Health” – D. Kanduti, P. Sterbenk, B. Artnik, March 2016 [PubMed]
- “Fluoride Affects Learning and Memory in Animals” – E. Connett, 28 March 2012 [Fluoride Action Network]
- “Top 10 Foods and Drinks Highest in Fluoride” – D. Whitbread, 6 December 2016 [MyFoodData]
- “Ameliorative effect of tamarind leaf on fluoride-induced metabolic alterations” – R. A. Vasant, A. V. R. L. Narasimhacharya, 22 March 2012 [PubMed]
- “Fluoride Removal from Aqueous Solutions by Mechanically Modified Guava Seeds” – H. Alberto S, R. Cortes-Martinez, R. Alfaro-Cuevas-Villanueva, 16 December 2013 [International Journal of Sciences]
Last Updated on 2 months by D&C Editorial Team