Fluoride is a key component of most dental hygiene regimens, but its popularity isn’t completely unchallenged. Many people question its safety and object to the fluoridation of drinking water on these grounds. While some of the arguments against fluoride rely on thorough research, many others are based on inaccuracies or poorly constructed conspiracy theories about governmental mind control; these sorts of claims should be dismissed outright and are barely worth addressing in the first place.
Below, you’ll find accurate information about how fluoride works, why dental professionals almost universally agree about its benefits, and why some people are not as convinced about its safety.
Fluoride's Dental Role
When we eat, sugars from our food become stuck to our teeth and create a breeding ground for bacteria. This bacteria produces an acid that eats away at the enamel of your teeth. While this process is somewhat unavoidable—you have to eat, after all—if left unchecked it can cause serious tooth decay. Tooth decay can lead to a painful toothache, or in severe cases, tooth loss. Fluoride protects your teeth against this decay-causing bacteria, and if the damage is mild and recent, it can actually reverse it as well.
The Arguments for Fluoride
The most obvious benefit of using fluoride is its ability to drastically reduce the incidence of tooth decay. It’s estimated that in the United States alone cavity rates have dropped between 30 and 40% since governments began treating drinking water with fluoride. Some studies have shown that for every $1 a water supply company spends on fluoridation, its users save almost $40 in potential dental procedures.
Additionally, medical experts have begun to find links between certain illnesses and oral health. For example, it’s believed that cardiovascular disease and even osteoporosis can be caused by infections from tooth decay. Because dental health is so tightly linked with overall health, it’s easy to see why fluoride should play such an important role in your life.
The Arguments against Fluoride
In the 1990s the U.S. National Toxicology Program did a study of lab rats and the effect of fluoride on them. Their research found that male lab rats that were given fluoridated water were at a higher risk for a certain type of bone cancer. Since this time, numerous other studies have been conducted about the potential link between fluoride and cancer, but none so far have been able to conclusively prove the connection. This is due in large part to the fact that when dealing with real-world test subjects there are many potential factors that are out of the control of researchers.
Additionally, some people oppose things like water fluoridation because of ethical reasons. Citizens in a community typically have little control over whether or not their water supply is fluoridated, and while this does raise a valid concern, this issue is more about public policy than it is about the safety of fluoride.
Ultimately, you have to make a decision on fluoride yourself. The arguments for both sides have plenty of research, but no one can study and weigh its relative importance for you. If you have more questions about fluoride's potential advantages or risks, you should consult with your dentist or another medical professional.