Fluoride and Drinking Water - uses, dangers and side effects

Written by William Fryer - MA Oxon

FluoriNe is a highly reactive chemical (similar to chlorine) and fluoriDe is the metal ion when fluorine is bound to another element in a compound. Fluoride is often added to water supplies as a way to reduce tooth decay in the local population.

However there are concerns regarding fluoride'seffect on health; especially problems with bones, teeth and neurological development.Fluoride is protects your teeth from decay that results from demineralisation. That is why it is often added to toothpaste. When added to toothpaste it is being applied locally, direct to teeth where it is needed. When it is added to drinking water it is being administered systemically to your whole body.

Fluoride Health Risks - three major ones:

1. Dental fluorosis

A fluoride content of 0.7 ppm is generally thought to be best for dental health. Concentrations above 4.0 ppm are thought to be potentially hazardous.

Exposure to high concentrations of fluoride during childhood, when teeth are developing, can lead to dental fluorosis. You can see it because it creates white streaks or specks in the enamel of the teeth. The health of the teeth is unaffected but the discolouration is noticeable.

By breastfeeding infants or making up formula milk with fluoride-free water you can help protect your children from fluorosis.

Children below the age of 6 years should not use (https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluorosis) a mouthwash that contains fluoride. Children should also be supervised when brushing their teeth to ensure they do not swallow toothpaste. 
2. Skeletal fluorosis

Excess exposure to fluoride can lead to a bone disease known as skeletal fluorosis. Over many years, this can result in pain and damage to bones and joints.

The bones may become hardened and less elastic, increasing the risk of fractures (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/173312). If the bones thicken and bone tissue accumulates, this can contribute to impaired joint mobility.


In some cases, excess fluoride can damage the parathyroid gland. This can result in hyperparathyroidism, which involves uncontrolled secretion of parathyroid hormones.

This can result in a depletion of calcium (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248958) in bone structures leading to a higher incidence of fractures and higher-than-normal concentrations of calcium in the blood which can lead to feelings of tiredness and lethargy.

4. Neurological problems

In 2017, a report was published suggesting that exposure to fluoride before birth could lead to (https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp655) poorer cognitive outcomes in the future.

The researchers measured fluoride levels in 299 women during pregnancy and in their children between the ages of 6 and 12 years. They tested cognitive ability at the ages of 4 years and between 6 and 12 years. Higher levels of fluoride were associated with lower scores on IQ tests.

In 2014, fluoride was documented as a neurotoxin that could be hazardous (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4418502/) to child development, along with 10 other industrial chemicals, including lead, arsenic, toluene, and methylmercury.

Other health problems

According to the International Association of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), an organization that campaigns against the use of added fluoride, it may also (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319500) contribute to the following (https://files.iaomt.org/wp-content/uploads/IAOMT-Fact-Sheet-on-Fluoride-and-Human-Health.pdf) health problems:
* acne (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/107146) and other skin problems
* cardiovascular problems, including arteriosclerosis and arterial calcification, high blood pressure (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159283), myocardial damage, cardiac insufficiency, and heart failure (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156849)
* reproductive issues, such as lower fertility and early puberty (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156451) in girls
* thyroid dysfunction
* conditions affecting the joints and bones, such as osteoarthritis, bone cancer (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/171372), and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
* neurological problems, possibly leading to ADHD (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323667)
One review describes fluoride (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21288074/) as an "extreme electron scavenger" with an "insatiable appetite for calcium." The researchers call for the balance of risks and benefits to be reconsidered.

Exposure to Fluoride in the United Kingdom

There are two main ways in which you could be exposed to Fluoride in the UK. The first is via toothpaste, most toothpastes have Fluoride in and quite frankly, because this is a local application of Fluoride directly to teeth there is less risk of harmful exposure, people generally rinse after brushing too. You only need a very small amount of Fluoride to protect teeth. It is usually present in low concentrations in toothpaste and most people rinse after brushing.

Of more concern is the presence of Fluoride in drinking water. There are two aspects to this. The first is that the fluoride is being taken systemically, your whole body is being exposed just so that your teeth can gain a benefit. Doing it this way exposes you to greater risk because your whole body is taking in the flouride and not just your teeth. Also, fluoridation of water belongs to a bygone time when children had particularly poor health and before the NHS was created.

Additionally, it is the principle of the thing. It is medicating a population. Choice is being removed. You get Fluoride whether you like it or not. Natural justice suggests that people should have a choice about the medications they take. Fortunately not all water companies in the UK actually add Fluoride. You can check with your local water company to see if they do or not.

How to remove fluoride from drinking water?

Fluoride is typically found bonded to something else, for example Calcium as Calcium Fluoride. The most effective way to remove this is by steam distillation. Distillation is used in laboratories to purify water and it is the most effective method for water purification. A water distiller will remove all fluoride from contaminated water.