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One of the longest-running controversies in public health is the addition of fluorides to municipal water supplies. Once considered an essential nutrient, fluorine is now recognized as a potential problem for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. The simple fact is that small amounts of fluorine in the form of fluorides prevents cavities, but larger amounts can cause a range of detrimental effects of varying severity that depend on individual genetics factor.
Fluorides Are Everywhere
Fluorine is a highly reactive, corrosive gas in its chemically combined state. The gas is so chemically active that it quickly forms fluorides with metals, and these fluorides are stable enough to find their way into the food and water supply.
Even if you don't live in a community that uses fluoridation in its water supply, there is no escaping fluorides. A fluoride compound called cryolite is used to make aluminum and as a pesticide. Another fluoride compounds known as sulfur hexafluoride is used as an insulator in electrical transformers. And a third fluoride compound known as polytetrafluoroethylene is the building block of Teflon, the non-stick coating that appears on everything from pots and pans to artificial hips.
Fluorides Occur Naturally in Food
We usually think of fluoride as something we get from drinking water or stannous fluoride toothpaste, but there is also fluoride in food and beverages. Most foods contain just a trace of fluorides, only 5 to 50 micrograms per 100-gram serving, but some foods contain much more.
- Tea (iced or hot), not decaffeinated, 302-389 micrograms/100 gram serving.
- Raisins, 234 micrograms/100 gram serving
- Tea (iced or hot), decaffeinated, 220 micrograms/100 gram serving. (The process of removing caffeine also removes fluorides.)
- Canned crab, 210 micrograms/100 gram serving.
- White wine, 202 micrograms/100 gram serving.
- McDonald's French fries, 115 micrograms/100 gram serving.
- Red wine, 105 micrograms/100 gram serving.
Powdered coffee creamer is also high in fluoride content, although most people use only a very small amount.
Are Fluorides Good for Human Health?
While scientists have conclude that fluorides are not an "essential nutrient," they are sufficiently useful for preventing cavities that in 1997 the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine recommended a daily dose of 0.01 mg (for infants) to 4.0 mg (for adults) for good dental health. The reason fluorides are helpful in preventing tooth decay is that they activate genes in teeth and bones that power a process called osteoclastogenesis.
This hard-to-pronounce term refers to the creation of "clean up" cells in bones and teeth that break down old bone and tooth tissue so it can be replaced by new. This enables the bones and teeth to repair tiny, invisible microfractures that otherwise would lead to a break. Too much fluoride, however, leads to too many osteoclasts, and deformities in bones and teeth.