What are the Health Effects of Fluoride?

T. Carrier

Fluoride is a form of the element fluorine. It is a substance commonly found in water and food, among other things. Controversy surrounds the substance, however. Although it has long been used as a tool against tooth decay and bone degeneration, many scientists believe that the effects of fluoride elevation can lead to a number of serious health problems related to the kidneys, the brain, the bones, and the stomach.

Fluoride is often added to public drinking water.
Fluoride is often added to public drinking water.

When used in moderation, fluoride can help build strong teeth and bones. For this reason, fluoride is a fixture in water treatment plants where the substance naturally occurs in low concentrations. Many toothpaste makers also boast about use of fluoride in their products. Experts believe the healthy effects of fluoride are most positive at intake levels of about 2.8 to 4.2 ounces per gallon (0.8 to 1.2 milligrams per liter).

If a human is exposed to high levels of fluoride, poisoning can result. The substance is particularly dangerous to individuals who possess a fluoride allergy. Skin, head, and stomach problems may arise from such allergies. Since the substance impacts melatonin — important in promoting sleep — insomnia can occur as well. Preventive steps like drinking-water safety measures and fluoride toxicity monitoring may alleviate these dangers.

Ironically, despite fluoride's fixture in many tooth cleaning devices, increasing evidence suggests that excessive amounts can actually damage the hard enamel of teeth. Many children and adults have white or brown stains on their teeth, possibly due to the effects of fluoride. This condition is known as dental fluorosis.

The relationship between fluoride and the kidneys is contentious as well. Since the kidneys remove most fluoride from the system, an individual with kidney disease is at risk of fluoride poisoning. Some studies have also uncovered a possible link between fluoride overexposure and kidney disease in some animals and individuals.

When the kidneys are influenced, bone disease may soon follow. Some researchers contend that fluoride can weaken bones, leading to bone fractures. These risks are especially pronounced in children or the elderly.

Perhaps the most dangerous risk of this bone degeneration is the development of cancer. Individuals living in areas with high water fluoridation tend to have a higher incidence of bone cancer and bladder cancer, as well as other cancer types. Genetic damage may be responsible for these elevated risks.

Similar studies have investigated the effects of fluoride on brain function. In these cases, some level of brain tissue damage was found with high fluoride exposure, and a perhaps coincidental lower intelligence quotient (IQ) and increase of Alzheimer’s disease was discovered as well. Further, the substance proved harmful to fetal brains in some instances. A gland in the brain that partially controls puberty may also be adversely affected by fluoride.

The thyroid gland can also be hindered, resulting in a range of consequences from depression to an increased risk of heart disease. On the other hand, the adverse effects of fluoride on this gland are sometimes applied overactive thyroids, however. This dual positive and negative influence underscores the dichotomy of fluoride and health effects.

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