Possible Side Effects of Fluoride Treatments

Fluoride is touted as a terrific way to keep cavities at bay, and rightly so.

But too much fluoride is too much of a good thing.

First, a bit of history: fluoride is a mineral found in rocks and soil that helps prevent tooth decay. The discovery that it could help prevent decay in teeth didn’t occur until the early 1900s. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a recent dental school graduate named Frederick McKay traveled to Colorado Springs in 1901 to research why so many residents had very dark brown stains – some said the teeth looked like chocolate – on their teeth.

McKay and dental researcher Dr. G.V. Black studied the problem and soon found that, while the teeth were extremely unsightly, they found that the teeth also were resistant to decay.

By the 1920s the two discovered that the brown stains were caused by high levels of fluoride in the water. Dr. H. Trendley Dean, the head of the dental hygiene department at the National Institute of Health, soon took up the study of fluoride in water. He determined by the late 1930s that fluoride levels of up to 1.0 ppm in drinking water didn’t result in the brown stains in most people, and, because of the finding by McKay and Black that the fluoride appeared to keep tooth decay at bay, was able to convince the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan to add fluoride to its public water supply in 1945.

After just 11 years, Dean found that cavities found in Grand Rapids children born after the fluoride was added to the city’s drinking water supply dropped by more than 60 percent.

Since then, fluoride remains one of the best weapons against tooth decay. Just about all toothpaste brands on the market today contain fluoride as an active ingredient and water fluoridation projects benefit more than 200 million Americans.

Still, as noticed by McKay and Black back in the early years of the last century, too much fluoride can cause staining on the teeth, stains that do not go away.

In addition, children younger than 8 who are exposed to excessive amounts have a greater risk of developing pits in their tooth enamel. Excessive consumption of fluoride over a life could increase the chance of bone fractures as well as pain and tenderness in the bones, a condition known as skeletal fluorosis (the severe form is rare in the U.S).

Still, the Centers for Disease Control states that “for the prevention of tooth decay, the beneficial effects of fluoride extend throughout the life span.”

Most people using fluoridated toothpaste and drinking water are safe from overexposure, according to the CDC: “…if you and your child are among the 196 million Americans who receive their water from an optimally fluoridated community water system (0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter) and your follow guidelines in your child’s toothbrushing, then it is highly unlikely that your child is receiving too much fluoride.”

The CDC recommends that children should start using fluoridated toothpaste when they turn 2.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding fluoride and its possible side effects, give Dr. Dickson’s office a call or e-mail us at [email protected].

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