Fluoride: uses, dangers and side effects

Written by William Fryer - MA Oxon

Right now, the Government is preparing to add fluoride to drinking water across the UK. The reason for doing this is that fluoride is associated with lower levels of tooth decay, particularly in childhood.

However, Fluoride is also associated with hip fracture, Down’s syndrome, kidney stones, bladder cancer and osteosarcoma (a cancer of the bone).

Currently, 10% of the UK population receives fluoridated water, however new measures could see fluoridation rolled out to the entire population. This is a controversial area, not least because it can be viewed as a government medicating a population.

Why fluoride in water?

The history of fluoridation dates back to the Second World War when dentists noted lower rates of decay in children from South Shields who had “mottled teeth” a sign of dental fluorosis (abnormally high levels of fluoride). This kicked off research that did indeed show that fluoride levels in teeth are associated with dental decay. The higher the fluoride the lower the decay.

One way to address this is simply to brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste. In this way, the fluoride is applied topically (where it is needed) rather than systemically (to the entire body).

However, some Governments, rather than attempt public health campaigns aimed at persuading populations to change their behaviour, will simply add fluoride directly to the water supply.

Currently, over 40 countries have artificial water fluoridation schemes. The most recently published estimates of population coverage include:

  • USA (64%),
  • Canada (43%),
  • Panama (18%),
  • Republic of Ireland (73%),
  • Australia (61%),
  • New Zealand (61%),
  • Israel (75%),
  • Malaysia (70%),
  • United Kingdom (10%),
  • Singapore (100%),
  • Brazil (41%),
  • Argentina (21%),
  • Chile (40%),
  • Spain (10%),
  • Columbia (80%).
  • Hong Kong is also fluoridated, with 100% population coverage.

Many areas of England have significant natural fluoride content in drinking water anyway.

These include

  • Norwich,
  • Ipswich,
  • Cambridge,
  • Hartlepool,
  • Slough,
  • Bath,
  • Swindon,
  • Colchester
  • Other sites particularly in the counties of Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Durham, Shropshire, Wiltshire and in North East London

So, adding fluoride to water is not a simple task, it needs to take into account existing local levels to start with. How water companies manage this over such a wide area is unclear given the size of their systems and the amount of local variation.

There are studies showing a link between water fluoridation and a number of medical conditions as already described above. But there is also a moral issue related to water fluoridation. Is it right that a government adds medication to a water supply (even with good intent)? Arguably not.

It is also poor public health practice. Historically public health campaigns are always more successful if they incorporate choice and empower people. Water fluoridation is a very blunt instrument. A better approach is to encourage tooth care with fluoridated toothpaste.

How to get fluoride out of water?

Fluoride is difficult to remove from water. It is a dissolved solid so filtration will not work, nor will reverse osmosis. The only way to effectively remove fluoride is via steam distillation.

Steam distillation removes all impurities and empowers you to create the water that you want to drink, free of contamination or interference.

Explore our water distillers range here: https://www.megahome-distillers.co.uk/water-distillers 

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