By Mirella Levin

Fluoride is a reduced form of the element Fluorine (F), which is part of the halogen group in the periodic table. It occurs naturally in water and is also found in low concentration in many foods. However, ocean water contains a higher concentration than drinking water does. Despite this, it is estimated that 60% of the American Population receive this mineral in their drinking water through their taps at home. Fluoride is generally used in pharmaceutical drugs as it reduces drug metabolism. It is commonly found in medications such as certain antipsychotics, anesthetics, antibiotics and HIV medications. It is also universally known as a mineral that enhances tooth development and strength. This is why it is often used as a dental treatment that protects teeth. Fluoride has shown to help prevent and possibly reverse the early stages of tooth decay and dental cavities. Studies show that fluoride treatments have helped reduce tooth decay by 20 to 40% since 2002.

Despite the benefits that this mineral has on our dental health, it can also lead to many problems due to toxicity. Fluoride Salts (NaF) are only mildly toxic but, when in excess can result in acute poisoning which is fatal. For an average adult, it is when this substance is in excess of 4g that fatal poisoning can occur. However, in some cases the poisoning is mild and results in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and amplified thirst. These symptoms usually begin thirty minutes after ingestion and can last up to 24 hours. Because of fluoride’s toxicity, it is important to ensure that children do not swallow toothpastes containing this substance because this can lead to fatal poisoning. This is partially why it is recommended that children use fluoride-free toothpastes and that infants from 0 to 12 months have formula that is prepared with fluoride-free water.

Because this particular mineral is both beneficial and harmful at the same time, it is important that it be consumed in the correct doses. Optimum levels are said to be at 0.7 to 1.2 ppm (part fluorine per million parts water). An example of this element’s ability to be both good and bad for our health is its use to treat osteoporosis, which is done by using higher does of sodium fluoride. However, when these substance levels are too elevated, they can result in incomplete stress fractures, leg pain and stomach irritation.

In spite of this mineral’s beneficial effects on tooth development and preventing tooth decay, too much fluorine is harmful. Lower doses of this substance are used for water fluoridation which can lead to dental fluorosis. This is condition which affects the appearance of the teeth. However it is generally mild and is not severe. It commonly affects children during tooth development and in mild cases white marks or streaks will appear on the teeth. Severe cases are rare and usually occur when exposed to water that is fluoridated at levels that exceed the recommended ones. Dental fluorosis is most common amongst children between the ages of one and four. Children of ages eight and above are no longer at risk.

The best way to benefit from this mineral without being at risk for toxicity is to ingest it in moderation. It is best to ensure that, if it is present in your tap water, that it is within the recommended intake levels. Furthermore, it is best to keep children away from toothpastes and mouthwashes containing it as they are likely to swallow these and ingest the harmful substance. For information about how much of this substance you should be consuming, please consult the table below.


Fluoride Ion Level in Drinking Water (ppm)*


<0.3 ppm

0.3-0.6 ppm

>0.6 ppm

Birth-6 months




6 months-3 years

0.25 mg/day**



3-6 years

0.50 mg/day

0.25 mg/day


6-16 years

1.0 mg/day

0.50 mg/day


* 1.0 ppm = 1 mg/liter
** 2.2 mg sodium fluoride contains 1 mg fluoride ion



[2] http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/fluoride.html

[3] http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/fluoride.html

[4] http://www.ada.org/public/topics/fluoride/fluoride_article01.asp


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