Fluoride is one of the most controversial drinking water impurities. In many states, fluoride is added to city water, as it reportedly has oral health benefits. However, there has been debate over the years about whether fluoride consumption is more dangerous than experts currently assume.
Whether you get your water from a private well or a city source, there’s a strong likelihood that it contains fluoride. In this guide, I’ll be sharing everything you need to know about fluoride in water, including how it gets there, how to test for fluoride, and what to do if your water has high fluoride levels.
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🧪 How Does Fluoride Get Into Water?
Fluoride can enter into groundwater naturally. As a naturally occurring element, fluoride is found in rocks and soils. When water seeps through the earth, it picks up traces of this fluoride, before traveling into well aquifers and reservoirs carrying public water.
Excessive levels of fluoride may be filtered out of city water, but many states now add fluoride to their public water supplies.
As reported by the CDC, fluoridation of city water has been taking place in America since 1945. Studies highlighted in the report found that initial fluoridation practices were linked to a reduction in cavities, and as the message spread about the potential benefits of fluoride for the teeth and gums, more and more states started to fluoridate their water.
The most recent figures suggest that in 2016, more than 200 million Americans who use city water supplies now drink fluoridated water. This, according to some health experts, is a good thing. However, as I’ll discuss later in this article, some evidence suggests that while fluoride is good for our oral health, ingesting it can be dangerous.
🔎 How Do I Know if I Have Fluoride in My Water?
The easiest way to find out if you have fluoride in your water is to get hold of your area’s annual water quality report. This report should break down exactly which trace contaminants are present in your water, usually in mg/L or PPM. You can compare the report to the recommended level of 0.7 mg/L of fluoride in water, and decide whether you’d rather have less fluoride in this, or no fluoride at all.
You should be able to find your local area’s water quality report on your water provider’s website. Alternatively, email your provider and ask for a virtual copy online, or a letter in the post.
If you own a private well, or you just want to be certain of how much fluoride is in your own home’s drinking water, you can choose to test your own water for fluoride. I’ve covered more on this later in the guide.
🤔 Should I Test My Water for Fluoride?
Whether or not you test your water for fluoride is your own personal decision. However, I would say that if you don’t want to drink fluoride, you should test your water, whether you have a private well or you get your water from a city source.
Fluoride has been shown to protect the tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay, but an elevated concentration of fluoride can cause something called dental fluorosis, as noted in research by the CDC. Dental fluorosis is caused by consuming elevated levels of fluoride at a time when the teeth are still developing. The issue is most common in children under the age of eight and can cause white spots and pits to appear in the teeth.
Aside from dental fluorosis, research by Cancer.org has found that fluoride can also cause skeletal fluorosis, in which fluoride builds up in the bones. In older adults, this can result in fractures and weakened bones.
Cancer.org also highlights a study in which “equivocal” evidence was found to suggest that fluoridated drinking water had cancer-causing properties, especially in relation to a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
Research into the health effects of fluoride is limited, and it does have some dental health benefits in preventing tooth decay. However, until more is known about fluoride, you may prefer not to drink this naturally occurring contaminant at all – especially if you have young children.
📌 How to Test for Fluoride in Drinking Water
There are two options for testing for fluoride in your drinking water: paying for certified lab testing or using an at-home test kit.
Certified Laboratory Testing
The most accurate way to measure fluoride in your drinking water is to use laboratory testing. This method provides exact information about your water’s level of fluoride, measured in parts per million (PPM) or milligrams per liter (mg/L).
There are thousands of certified laboratories that provide fluoride testing. When you pay for a laboratory test kit, you will usually receive the equipment you need to collect water samples at home. You’ll then send your water sample back to the laboratory, which will perform testing on your sample and determine what your water contains.
You can choose for a lab to test for more than just fluoride in your water sample. For instance, my recommended lab testing body, Tap Score by SimpleLab, offers packages that are tailored to well and city water. As well as testing your water’s fluoride levels, these packages also test for common well or city water contaminants, such as hardness, TDS, heavy metals, chlorine, iron, sulfur, and other chemical and metal contaminants.
Home Water Test Kit
To get an idea of your water’s fluoride levels, you can use an at-home drinking water test kit. DIY test kits can give you an indication of how much fluoride your water contains. These kits come with testing strips, which you dip into a sample of your water. The strips will turn a certain color based on the level of fluoride they detect, and you can compare their color to a color chart to find out how much fluoride you’re dealing with.
Home test kits are very affordable, costing less than $20. The problem with at-home water testing, however, is that it doesn’t tend to be very accurate. While you can use fluoride testing kits to understand whether your water contains fluoride ions, you won’t know exactly how much fluoride is present.
🧐 What Can I Do If My Water Tests Positive for High Levels of Fluoride?
If your water sample tests positive for high levels of fluoride, your best option is to purchase a water filter that can remove this contaminant before you drink it.
There are many types of filters that can remove fluoride. Some of the most popular at-home filters for fluoride removal today are:
Reverse Osmosis Filters
Reverse osmosis filters remove a range of impurities from city and well water sources, including lead and other heavy metals, chlorine and other chemical contaminants, disease-causing microorganisms like bacteria, and fluoride.
During the RO process, water is sent at an increased pressure through several filtration stages and an RO membrane. The RO membrane has tiny pores that prevent impurities, including fluoride ion particles, from passing through.
Countertop filters come in two designs: standalone or connected to your kitchen faucet. These filters usually contain bone char activated carbon filters, which exchange fluoride for hydroxide, greatly reducing fluoride levels.
Water Filter Pitchers
Water filter pitchers are similar to countertop filters, but they’re smaller, lighter and more portable. They use gravity filtration to remove a range of contaminants, including fluoride.
Distillers are another of the most effective treatment methods, not just for excessive fluoride, but for a variety of natural, environmental and man-made contaminants.
A distiller works by boiling water until it evaporates, then allowing it to condense into a clean container.
Keep in mind that not all water filters are capable of removing fluoride. This contaminant is particularly difficult to filter out of water, and some filters aren’t designed for fluoride removal. Some systems, like the Big Berkey countertop filter, may offer extra filters that are solely designed for fluoride removal.
Check product descriptions carefully if you’re looking for a filter system that can remove fluoride from tap water.
If I remove fluoride from my water, am I at risk of tooth decay?
No. If you’re wanting to prevent tooth decay, good dental hygiene (i.e. flossing and cleaning your teeth regularly) is enough. You could also purchase a toothpaste that contains fluoride. There’s no risk in using fluoride toothpaste if you don’t swallow it.