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Fluoride

Glass of water

What does it do?

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.

What are the best food sources?

Few foods contain fluoride. Exceptions are fluoridated water, beverages and infant formulas made with fluoridated water, and some marine fish.

What happens if you don’t get enough?

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.

What happens if you get too much?

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.

How much do you need?

The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.

Life Stage Group Age Range Recommended Dietary Allowance/Adequate Intake Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)
Infants 0-6 mo. 0.7 milligrams/day
Infants 7-12 mo. 0.9 milligrams/day
Children 1-3 yr. 1.3 milligrams/day
Children 4-8 yr. 2.2 milligrams/day
Males 9-13 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Males 14-18 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Males 19-30 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Males 31-50 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Males 51-70 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Males > 70 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females 9-13 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females 14-18 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females 19-30 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females 31-50 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females 51-70 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Females > 70 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Pregnancy < 18 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Pregnancy 19-30 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Pregnancy 31-50 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Lactation < 18 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Lactation 19-30 yr. 10 milligrams/day
Lactation 31-50 yr. 10 milligrams/day
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