When fluoride was first added to water in the 1940s as a means of preventing tooth decay, not a single dental product contained fluoride: no fluoride toothpastes, no fluoride mouthrinses, no fluoride varnishes, and no fluoride gels. In the past 60 years, as one fluoride product after another entered the market, exposure to fluoride increased considerably, particularly among children.
Exposure from other sources has increased as well. Other sources include processed foods made with fluoridated water, fluoride-containing pesticides, bottled teas, fluorinated pharmaceuticals, teflon pans, and mechanically deboned chicken. Taken together, the glut of fluoride sources in the modern diet has created a toxic cocktail, one that has caused a dramatic increase in dental fluorosis (a tooth defect caused by excess fluoride intake) over the past 60 years. The problem with fluoride, therefore, is not that children are receiving too little, but that they are receiving too much.
Even advocates of fluoridation have begun to recognize this problem. In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced its recommendation that water fluoridation programs (which generally add 1 ppm fluoride to water) should lower the levels added to 0.7 ppm. This reduction, however, does little to solve the problem, as many children will continue to ingest more fluoride than is recommended, or safe.
Sources of Fluoride
- Dental Products: Many dental products now contain fluoride, including over 95% of toothpaste. Studies show that a significant number of children swallow more fluoride from toothpaste alone than is recommended as a total daily ingestion.
- Processed Beverages & Foods: Even if you don’t live in a community that adds fluoride to its water supply, you will still be exposed to fluoridated drinking water. This is because once fluoride is added en masse to water it winds in almost all processed beverages and foods. In the U.S., studies have shown that sodas, juices, sports drinks, beers, and many other processed foods, including infant foods, now have elevated fluoride levels.
- Pesticides: Due its toxicity, fluoride is used in some pesticides to kill insects and other pests. As a result of fluoride pesticide use, some food products–particularly grape products, dried fruit, dried beans, cocoa powder, and walnuts–have high levels of fluoride. Read more.
- Tea Drinks: Tea plants absorb fluoride from the soil. As a result, tea leaves–particularly old tea leaves–contain high levels of fluoride. Brewed black tea averages about 3 to 4 parts ppm fluoride, while commercial iced tea drinks contain between 1 and 4 ppm. As a result of these elevated levels, numerous studies have linked excessive tea consumption to a bone disease (skeletal fluorosis) caused by too much fluoride intake.
- Fluorinated Pharmaceuticals: Many pharmaceuticals are fluorinated, meaning they contain a carbon-fluorine bond. fluorine.” Although the carbon-fluoride bond in most drugs is strong enough to resist breaking down into fluoride within the body, this is not always the case as research has found that some fluorinated drugs, including cipro, do break down into fluoride and can thus be a major source of fluoride exposure for some individuals.
- Mechanically Deboned Meat: Foods made with mechanically separated meat (e.g., chicken fingers, nuggets, etc), contain elevated levels of fluoride due to the contamination from bone particles that occurs during the mechanical deboning processed. Mechanically processed chicken meats have the highest levels, with chicken sticks containing an average of 3.6 ppm. Read more
- Teflon Pans: Cooking food, or boiling water, in teflon pans may increase the fluoride content of food. In one study, it was found that boiling water in a teflon pan for just 15 minutes added an additional 2 ppm of fluoride to the water, thus bringing the final concentration to 3 ppm. Read more (Full & Parkins 1975).
- Workplace Exposure: Fluoride is a common air contaminant in industrial workplaces. As a result, workers in many heavy industries — including the aluminum, fertilizer, iron, oil refining, semi-conductor, and steel industries — can be routinely exposed to high levels of fluoride exposure. In addition to being a significant risk factor for respiratory disease; airborne fluorides can be a huge daily source fluoride intake.
What Doesn’t Contain Fluoride?
The mass fluoridation of water, and the resulting contamination of processed foods, can make it seem like everything has elevated levels of fluoride. The good news, however, is that most fresh foods and fresh water contains very little fluoride. As a general rule, therefore, one will receive very little fluoride when drinking spring water and eating unprocessed fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, milk, and meat. While there are some exceptions to this rule (e.g., seafood, tea, water from deep wells, and fresh fruit/vegetables sprayed with fluoride pesticides), it is a good rule of thumb to go by if you wish to reduce your fluoride exposure. To learn more, click here.
How to Reduce Your Fluoride Exposure
- Top 10 Ways to Reduce Fluoride Exposure
- FAN’s Grocery Store Guide: 7 Ways to Avoid Fluoride in Beverages and Food
- Top 5 Ways to Reduce Fluoride Exposure from Infant Formula
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