In More than Just Toothpaste, Flouride in Water and How to Remove it

August 12th, 2013

We have fluoride in our toothpaste… do we really need it in our water?


Image via Kenneth Lu (Flickr)

In More than Just Toothpaste, Fluoride in Water and How to Remove It

Water fluoridation is an extremely controversial topic. European countries have argued that putting fluoride in water supplies violates the Nuremberg Code, because it is a form of mass medication. The United Kingdom’s Green Party asserts that adding fluoride to public water violates three fundamental and human rights acts, and is banned by the U.K.’s Poisons Act of 1972. Here in the United States, several groups have sued municipalities, arguing that people’s hands should not be forced by mandatory water fluoridation, as it is a non-consensual medical treatment and excessive amounts of fluoride is dangerous. It is clear fluoride in water is a contentious ethical battle, so how did we get here in the first place, and what can we do about it?

What Is It, Exactly?

Water fluoridation is the practice of adding regulated amounts of fluoride chemicals – the stuff you find in your toothpaste – to public drinking water supplies. The purpose is simple: To prevent tooth decay, or at least aid in its prevention. Most water sources contain a small amount of naturally occurring fluoride, but many countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States put additional fluoride in drinking water. Many countries have also stopped the practice of adding fluoride in water, including Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Japan, and the Soviet Union.

How It All Started

In 1909, Dr. Frederick McKay examined 2,945 children who suffered from what was dubbed “Colorado Brown Stain.” These children lived in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado, and had naturally occurring stained, pitted, and cracked teeth. What was initially thought to be malnutrition, ended up being excess fluoride in the area’s natural water supply, and despite the cracked teeth, the children had fewer cavities than other kids did. The idea of adding fluoride to water was born, and Grand Rapids, Michigan was the first major U.S. city to enact the practice in 1945.

Fluoridation Today

Today, 72 percent of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water, and some suffer from unpleasant side effects. The most common side effect of fluoridated drinking water is “Colorado Brown Stain,” now known as dental fluorosis. As evidenced by McKay’s study, children are particularly susceptible to dental fluorosis. Additional studies have suggested that excess fluoride intake causes brain and kidney damage, compromises endocrine system function, and weakens bone strength in adults. These side effects are bit more serious than stained teeth, and have left many wondering why we need fluoride added to our drinking water if it already occurs naturally and we use it daily when brushing our teeth? As an environmental scientist, I certainly question this, and the city of Portland went so far as to vote against water fluoridation in May of 2013.

What You Can Do

Despite Portland’s election results and numerous lawsuits, major U.S. cities still put fluoride in water, and unless your city puts the option on your next ballot, you’re probably drinking fluoridated water – whether you want to or not. This is the fundamental epicenter of this ethical earthquake: You should have a choice to consume additional fluoride and you do not. So, what do you? Filter your water, because even most bottled water contains trace amounts of added fluoride.

Your water filter should define itself, partially, as a fluoride filter. These filters are designed to remove any municipally added fluoride. Ideally, your water filter will also pull many other harmful substances out of your drinking water, such as arsenic, water treatment chemicals, and bacterium, but a fluoride filter will go the extra mile and remove fluoride as well. This is important beyond simply protecting your loved ones from the dangers of excess fluoride, it is also important because a fluoride filter takes this heated debate and places the end choice in your hand, which is right where it should be.

You should choose whether you want to consume excess fluoride to prevent tooth decay, not your municipality. If you don’t mind fluoridation, you don’t filter. If you do mind it, you use a fluoride filter. The choice is up to you, and many, including worldwide political figures and experts, agree it is only ethical to give you that choice – water filtering does just that. Now, what do I think? Well, I also think the choice is yours; however, I became an environmental scientist to stop water pollution, and I don’t think adding fluoride to drinking water is exactly stopping water pollution!


Written By: Lynn Taylor

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