Fluoride is a mineral probably best known for preventing tooth decay because it helps to harden tooth enamel. Fluoride stimulates new bone formation throughout the life cycle, thus offering some protection from developing osteoporosis.
Few foods contain fluoride. Exceptions are fluoridated water, beverages and infant formulas made with fluoridated water, and some marine fish.
Inadequate fluoride intakes result in an increased risk of tooth decay. Symptoms may include visible pits or holes on the teeth and toothaches.
Infants and children who live in areas with nonfluoridated water may be at risk for fluoride deficiency. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend fluoride supplements for these children.
Fluoride is toxic when consumed in excessive amounts. Large doses consumed at one time could result in nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting.
Long-term excess fluoride intake can result in fluorosis, of which there are two types: enamel fluorosis or mild to extreme skeletal fluorosis. Enamel fluorosis is characterized by brown stains and pitting of the teeth in children and is the result of excessive fluoride prior to the eruption of the first permanent teeth. Mild to extreme skeletal fluorosis is rare in the United States—only five cases have been confirmed since the mid-1960s. This condition can begin with pain and stiffness of the joints in its mild form and develops into crippling calcification of ligaments, muscle wasting, neurological problems, immobility and possibly osteoporosis.
If your community water supply is fluoridated, you may wonder—is it safe? Critics claim fluoridated water is unsafe, may cause cancer and is ineffective in preventing tooth decay. However, a critical analysis of the science conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2001 and endorsed by the American Dental Association concluded, “When used appropriately, fluoride is a safe and effective agent that can be used to prevent and control dental caries. Fluoride has contributed profoundly to the improved dental health of persons in the United States and other countries. To ensure additional gains in oral health, water fluoridation should be extended to additional communities, and fluoride toothpaste should be used widely.” Additionally, the American Cancer Society asserts there is no strong evidence for a link between cancer and fluoridated water.
The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.