Fluoride: Good Or Bad For Health?

UNICEF's Offical Position on Water Fluoridation.

Fluoride was first used to fight dental cavities in the 1940s, its effectiveness defended on two grounds:

Fluoride inhibits enzymes that breed acid-producing oral bacteria whose acid eats away tooth enamel. This observation is valid, but some scientists now believe that the harmful impact of fluoride on other useful enzymes far outweighs the beneficial effect on caries prevention.

Fluoride ions bind with calcium ions, strengthening tooth enamel as it forms in children. Many researchers now consider this more of an assumption than fact, because of conflicting evidence from studies in India and several other countries over the past 10 to 15 years. Nevertheless, agreement is universal that excessive fluoride intake leads to loss of calcium from the tooth matrix, aggravating cavity formation throughout life rather than remedying it, and so causing dental fluorosis. Severe, chronic and cumulative overexposure can cause the incurable crippling of skeletal fluorosis.

Symptoms of fluorosis

Dental fluorosis, which is characterized by discoloured, blackened, mottled or chalky-white teeth, is a clear indication of overexposure to fluoride during childhood when the teeth were developing. These effects are not apparent if the teeth were already fully grown prior to the fluoride overexposure; therefore, the fact that an adult may show no signs of dental fluorosis does not necessarily mean that his or her fluoride intake is within the safety limit.

Chronic intake of excessive fluoride can lead to the severe and permanent bone and joint deformations of skeletal fluorosis. Early symptoms include sporadic pain and stiffness of joints: headache, stomach-ache and muscle weakness can also be warning signs. The next stage is osteosclerosis (hardening and calcifying of the bones), and finally the spine, major joints, muscles and nervous system are damaged.

Whether dental or skeletal, fluorosis is irreversible and no treatment exists. The only remedy is prevention, by keeping fluoride intake within safe limits.