Fluoride in Water: What You Need to Know in 2022

Fluoride is a controversial mineral that’s commonly added to public drinking water supplies. While fluoride is known to be good for dental health, there are dangers associated with drinking this mineral in excess.

This glossary will discuss fluoride in detail, including the purpose of community water fluoridation, the potential health effects of too much fluoride, and the other common sources of fluoride exposure.

❔ What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that’s found in the earth’s rocks and soil. Fluoride is also artificially added to toothpaste and water, and is found in some foods.

When combined with hydrogen to form hydrogen fluoride, fluoride is used industrially to produce chlorofluorocarbons, motor gasoline alkylates, and aluminum fluoride, and is also used for rust removal and leather tanning.

💡 Fluoride salts are clear or white, with a bitter taste and no distinctive odor. This mineral has the chemical formula F- and is a monatomic anion of fluorine.

In Water AsFluoride, F-
SourcesNaturally found in many water sources
Community water fluoridation
Maximum
Contaminant Levels (MCLs)
EPA: 4.0 mg/L
EPA Secondary Standard: 2.0 mg/L
WHO Guideline: 1.5 mg/L
Potential Health RisksRisk of dental and skeletal fluorosis
Neurological and thyroid problems
Increased risk of bone cancer and osteoarthritis
TreatmentsReverse Osmosis
Distillation
Activated Alumina
Bone Char Carbon

🩺 What are the Potential Health Effects of Fluoride?

Fluoride is known for its dental health benefits, including its ability to protect the tooth enamel and prevent cavities, ultimately preventing tooth decay. For this reason, fluoridated toothpastes and other commercial dental products containing fluoride are commonly available today.

However, alongside the handful of benefits of fluoride according to dental research, fluoride is known to have some unwanted health effects, too.

According to Medical News Today, some of the potential health risks of long-term overconsumption of fluoride in water are:

  • Dental fluorosis, an aesthetic issue causing white specks or streaks on the tooth enamel. Especially common in young children under the age of six
  • Skeletal fluorosis, causing bones to harden and lose their elasticity, becoming more prone to breaking, pain, and impaired joint mobility
  • Neurological problems, including impaired development in children, an increased risk of ADHD, and lower IQ scores
  • Thyroid problems, as a result of damage to the parathyroid gland, resulting in excess calcium levels in the blood
  • An increased risk of bone cancer and osteoarthritis
  • Acne and other skin issues
  • Reproductive and fertility issues

These health risks are based on findings from numerous studies into the effects of daily fluoride intake, but research into these health effects is currently limited. Some sources claim that fluoride compounds pose an increased cancer risk, but research so far suggests that fluoride has no detectable cancer risk.

Possible health issues with too much fluoride in water

🚰 How Does Fluoride Get Into Drinking Water?

Fluoride concentrations are naturally found in many water sources. Certain regions have a high naturally occurring fluoride mineral content in rocks, which is released into soils, water, and the air. Fluoride from industrial processes may also leach into the environment, eventually ending up in our water.

However, in the majority of regions, the most likely cause of fluoride in drinking water is community water fluoridation.

More than 42 states now add fluoride to their community water systems. Community water fluoridation was established with the goal of preventing tooth decay by increasing the daily intake of citizens’ dietary fluoride.

According to the American Dental Association, fluoridated drinking water benefits communities by protecting against cavities, and can prevent tooth decay by up to 40%, helping people to save money on dental treatment. The ADA believes that adding fluoride to water is similar to fortifying orange juice with vitamin D or milk with calcium.

📉 Do Water Treatment Facilities Monitor Levels of Fluoride in Drinking Water?

Yes, water treatment facilities monitor how much fluoride community water supplies contain, based on the known health and environmental risks of excess fluoride.

Water suppliers are legally obliged to ensure their water’s fluoride concentration doesn’t exceed the maximum recommended amount, according to public health standards and regulations. Although many states add fluoride to their water, rather than filter it out, there’s still a limit to how much fluoride is considered healthy in a water supply.

The following guidelines and public health standards are available for fluoride in water:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level: 4.0 mg/L or ppm
  • EPA Secondary Standard (recommended but not a legal obligation): 2.0 mg/L or ppm
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Guideline: 1.5 mg/L

These guidelines are set in the knowledge of fluoride’s oral health benefits, while considering the potential risks of high levels of fluoride in water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most water supplies already have low fluoride levels that aren’t quite enough to prevent tooth decay. Community water fluoridation raises the fluoride level to the ideal concentration required for oral health benefits.

However, the initial fluoride concentrations added to water are now thought to have been too high, and the US Public Health Service recently lowered the recommended fluoride levels in drinking water for the first time.

Testing water with a fluoride meter

🔎 How Can I Tell if Fluoride is in My Drinking Water?

Fluoride doesn’t affect the taste, odor, or appearance of your water. That means that you won’t necessarily know whether or not you’re drinking fluoridated water by taste, smell, or sight alone.

The best way to tell if fluoride is in your drinking water is to test a sample of your water.

A private laboratory test can tell you exactly how much of the mineral fluoride is in your water, and whether you have naturally fluoridated water, artificially fluoridated water, or a combination of both. A test report can also tell you whether your water’s fluoride levels are considered safe according to public health guidelines.

👉 Check out our favorite fluoride water test kits here.

Another way to learn about the fluoride content of your water supply is to view your Water Quality Report, or Consumer Confidence Report (CCR).

A Consumer Confidence Report is produced by all water suppliers and lists all the impurities found in a drinking water source, and the concentrations of these impurities. If you view your local report and it’s still not clear whether your supplier provides water fluoridation, contact the supplier to ask.

Water testing with tap score

👩🏽‍⚕️ How Can I Protect My Family from Fluoride in Drinking Water?

The best way to protect your family from fluoridated water is to install a water treatment system that can remove this mineral.

Fluoride is a challenging contaminant that can’t be removed with a standard activated carbon filter. Some of the best filters to target artificial water fluoridation are:

  • Reverse osmosis filtration: This treatment method uses several water filters and a semi-permeable membrane to remove nearly 100% total dissolved solids, including 80% to 90% of fluoride. RO sends water through a membrane at a high pressure, and only water particles are small enough to pass through the membrane’s tiny pores.
  • Water distillation: A water distiller boils water until it vaporizes and condenses into a separate container, leaving the majority of contaminants behind in the boiling chamber. Distillation is a highly effective method of water purification and can remove up to 100% of fluoride. A countertop distiller is an affordable but time-consuming water treatment method, taking up to 6 hours to produce a 1-gallon batch of purified water.
  • Activated alumina: An activated alumina filter is designed to target two contaminants: fluoride and arsenic. Activated alumina can remove around 90% of fluoride – as long as your water pH is relatively low and your water flow is slow. This type of filter is typically installed in an under-sink or whole home filtration unit.
  • Bone char carbon: This treatment method involves using one of the oldest known filter media: activated bone charcoal carbon. Bone char removes up to 90% of fluoride and is typically added to a large filtration system that targets multiple drinking water contaminants at once.

📌 Note: While fluoridated drinking water is beneficial for oral health, it isn’t essential. Removing fluoride from your water won’t leave you deficient in the mineral, and as long as you follow good dental hygiene practices, you shouldn’t suddenly develop cavities or tooth decay.

Multi-stage whole house RO water filtration system

⚠️ How Else Can I Be Exposed to Fluoride?

Water fluoridation is one of the biggest sources of fluoride exposure in the US. Your daily fluoride intake may also be influenced by the following:

  • Using fluoridated dental products, like fluoride toothpaste, mouthwashes and gels, floss, fillings, varnishes, and supplements that prevent tooth decay (may be labeled as sodium fluoride)
  • Consuming foods and drinks made with water containing absorbed fluoride, such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, tea, coffee, and wine
  • Drinking bottled water with an excessively high fluoride content
  • Consuming drugs containing perfluorinated compounds

There are no known risks of using fluoridated dental products that you don’t ingest – only ingested fluoride is thought to be dangerous in large amounts. So, if you want to prevent tooth decay but you don’t want to ingest fluoride, consider filtering fluoride out of your water but still using fluoridated toothpaste – just make sure not to swallow the toothpaste.

📝 Where Can I Get More Information?

To learn more about fluoride, its uses and potential dangers in drinking water, the process of water fluoridation, and the pros and cons of this mineral, check out the links below.