Conventional wisdom has it that fluoride prevents caries (cavities), and, as with many things, a lot of people tend to think that more is better. So dentists give fluoride treatments and supplements. Cities fluoridate public water supplies. This is sensible insurance, we’re told; good, preventive medicine.
No doubt the intentions of fluoride proponents are good, but you know what they say about good intentions. And the adage bears even more truth when those good intentions ignore hard facts, starting with the reality that evidence in support of fluoride supplementation is a little sketchy.
In 2008, JADA – the official journal of the fluoride-advocating American Dental Association – published “Fluoride, Supplements, Dental Caries and Fluorosis,” a broad review of the scientific research on whether fluoride supplements actually help prevent cavities. While the authors did find some evidence of their doing so in older children, they concluded that the evidence was “weak and inconsistent” for their preventing caries in children under six years old. They also found that “mild-to-moderate dental fluorosis is a significant side effect.”
Fluorosis is what happens when a person gets too much fluoride. In its mildest form, we see the teeth marked by white streaks or flecks. In more severe forms, we see brown and black staining of the teeth, along with pitting and cracking of the teeth.
Meanwhile, water fluoridation doesn’t appear to prevent caries at all. This is borne out in report after report on outcomes in communities with fluoridated water. A recent one out of New Zealand found that children in non-fluoridated communities actually had 1% fewer cavities than children in communities with fluoridated water. And yet the Ministry of Health continues to recommend fluoridation!
The truth is, fluoride is just not necessary to prevent caries. What does help? Regular flossing and brushing – with any kind of toothpaste or even none at all. Eating a low-sugar, nutritionally-dense diet based on whole foods. Regular dental visits. Habits like these make a much more positive impact.
For the other important thing to remember about fluoride is this: not only is it ineffective and unnecessary; it’s also a poison that can damage many different organs and structures in the human body.
When you weigh the risk against its negligible benefits, fluoride hardly seems a good solution to the problem of tooth decay.