Fluoride, Fluorosis and the Media


I pic up this, in the media and the internet many times discussed, topic for current reason. A private, public television broadcast news seem to go for a broke (as it seems to me) to represent fluoride and fluoride containing toothpaste as absolutely harmless and to try to pose a current advertisement for a fluoride-free toothpaste as a lie. In this advertisement they indicate the toxicity of fluoride, which is posed as a lie by the news broadcast. They said that the caries infestation in Germany decreased by over 80% since the introduction of fluoride containing toothpaste and there are no studies that indicated negative effects of fluoride. Also, articles on the internet even of notable institutions are clearly pro fluoride with a grinding majority and only very few tries to emphasize its toxicity. Some even recommend to take fluoridated food - like salt or water - or even fluoride pills. Most of these authors seem to forgo an objective investigation - on both sites!

Fluorides are trace elements which are salts of the toxic fluor gas. They can be found everywhere in nature and are usually up taken by food. Mainly nuts contain higher amounts of fluorides (up to 680 µg per 100g in walnuts) and are accumulated within the food chain (we biologist call this bio accumulation). This means, that we can find higher amounts of fluoride in meat (between 80 and 200 µg per 100g). Especially high amounts can be found in tea as well. Mainly affected are cheap teas, as the producers yield old leaves of the tea plant as well which store already increasing amounts of fluoride from the soil. The exact amounts vary strongly among the different teas. Besides, there is no risk of a fluoride deficit with a normal diet and even with a fluoride free diet one is not able to find deficiency syndromes. Increasing risk of caries is rather an aspect of wrong diet and bad mouth hygiene.

Fluoride is especially important for our bones and teeth. It shapes special compounds which increase the stability and strength of the bones. But too much of it reverses this effect. A too high bone density causes the loss of the elasticity which is very important for our skeleton. The consequence is brittle bones and teeth that can crumble away, already with relatively weak pressure. Dark spots on the teeth can develop as consequence. It also can cause stiffening of the joints and interstitials. This disease pattern is called fluorosis.

As you may have already noticed is the toxicity of fluorides, as it is so often, a question of concentration. But just here is the problem. The positive effect of fluoride for the teeth can be found in relatively narrow borders between 0.7 and 1.5 mg per day. Beneath this concentration it is ineffective to most extend (for the teeth). But above this concentration it can be damaging for teeth and bones. But the recommended amounts and guide values diverge strongly. The Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin (German institute for consumer and animal protection and health) recommend between 3.2 and 3.8 mg fluoride per day for adults. But on long-term one suspect fluoride in even lower concentrations to lead to chronic intoxication. If you only use fluoride containing toothpaste, you can use this amount of fluoride unhesitating. On the one hand, the concentration is not that high and on the other hand, you usually don't swallow the paste. But you should only use the recommended amount of paste. Usually, this is an approximately pea sized bit. Unfortunately, most people don't know this. And unfortunately, the industry advertise fluoride very strong. There are many fluoride containing salts (approx. 0.25 mg per g salt) and most mineral waters are fluoridated (on average between 0.2 and 0.6 mg per Liter, but also up to 4 mg per Liter possible). In some countries - fortunately not in Germany - even tap or drinking water is loaded with fluoride.

Now, you can calculate by yourself, how much fluoride you take up every day. If you use the respective toothpaste and additionally drink mineral water and some tea, you are going to reach the guide value very fast, if not overrun it. And this seems to be rather high. I doubt that the decrease of caries infestation in Germany only arises from the fluoride containing toothpaste. During this time, the tooth precaution and the general quality of dental treatments increased pretty much as well.

The riot about fluoride started already 1945, when a big, American chemistry concern invented Teflon. Teflon turned out to be greatly suitable to store radioactive and fissionable uranium for atomic bombs, as all other materials for the containers corroded too fast. Thus, they needed high amounts for building the first atomic bombs. The waste product that was produced during this process, which was fluoride, was just lead into the local river and consequently reached the ground water and drinking water. The rising amount of mysterious diseases lead to rising criticism on the industry. Thus, they needed some positive publicity. So, much money was spent on research to find positive effects of fluorides. One found, that fluoride may reduce the risk of getting caries. Consequently, this positive effect if fluoride was merchandised in toothpaste and was a major offensive against the negative effects at the same time.
Today fluoride is still an undesired byproduct mainly in the aluminum and iron manufacture and fertilizer production. But this can be merchandised profitable thanks to great advertisement strategies. Perfluoridated components (PFC), like Teflon, are used almost everywhere in the meanwhile. Usually, they are the main components of water and pollutant repellent coating for textiles, like cloth, bags or sleeping bags. It is not sufficiently cleared, whether PFCs can be taken up by the skin. But the careless handling with these compounds lead to rising environmental pollution. One can already find negative consequences at smaller organisms. The PFCs don't get into the environment only by waste, but by abrasion off the mentioned items as well. By this, they also get into the usual dust and can be up taken by our lungs. Only very few manufacturer try to get away from PFCs completely, in the meanwhile. Most just use other PFCs if a special one is forbidden due to health issues. But this is also owed by the lack of alternatives for water and pollutant resistant surfaces and the investigation of alternatives is very expensive. Some PFCs have already been proven to accumulate in the breast of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and to influence the children health. But as a further explanation would go beyond the scope of this article, I don't want to go deeper into this.

At this time the guide values even were around 80 mg per day. In the meanwhile these guide values were decreased steadily and recent studies are challenging the earlier results more and more. Back then, many questions have been left unanswered or even omitted. Further, there are almost no information about the real long-term effects of fluoride. Newest analyses of the former studies even emphasize serious, physical damage by too high fluoride consume, which is balanced only by a mediate caries protection. Thus, fluoride may is able to disturb the glucose metabolism and can increase the insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes for example. A value of 4 mg fluoride per day is considered as clearly too high by this studies. Also the brain can be damaged by fluoride. Especially in combination with aluminum, which can be up taken from the environment and anthropogenic sources (for example by deodorants), seems to promote dementia, impair the memory and the learning capability and influences the brain chemistry. How strong this effect is and whether this reduces the will power of the 'victims' - as often mentioned by fluoride opponents - remains unclear.

Thus, one should not handle these substances carelessly and you should be conscious how much fluoride you take up. Special precaution is demanded in case of children. As you can see here, fluoride has a real positive effect on our teeth health. But a general harmlessness, as mentioned in the introduction and by the broadcast, is not given! Quite the contrary: A more accurate debate about the risks by the use of fluoride a newly assessed guide values should be established. Further, the industry should apply more alternatives an only use fluorides if really necessary.


  • Recommendation of Bundesinstitut für gesundheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinärmedizin
  • Fluoride-Content of Food
  • Fluoride-Content of Mineral Waters
  • Chan, L. (2014). Human exposure assessment of fluoride from tea (Camellia Sinensis L.) with specific reference to human bioaccessibility studies.
  • Peckham, S., & Awofeso, N. (2014). Water fluoridation: a critical review of the physiological effects of ingested fluoride as a public health intervention. The Scientific World Journal.
  • Holtgrave, E. A., Hopfenmüller, W., & Ammar, S. (2001). Tablet fluoridation influences the calcification of primary tooth pulp. Journal of Orofacial Orthopedics/Fortschritte der Kieferorthopädie.
  • Carton, R. J. (2006). Review of the 2006 United States National Research Council report: fluoride in drinking water.
  • Long, Y. G., Wang, Y. N., Chen, J., Jiang, S. F., Nordberg, A., & Guan, Z. Z. (2002). Chronic fluoride toxicity decreases the number of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in rat brain. Neurotoxicology and teratology.
  • Wu, C., Gu, X., Ge, Y., Zhang, J., & Wang, J. (2006). Effects of high fluoride and arsenic on brain biochemical indexes and learning-memory in rats. Fluoride
  • Fromme, H., Tittlemier, S. A., Völkel, W., Wilhelm, M., & Twardella, D. (2009). Perfluorinated compounds–exposure assessment for the general population in Western countries. International journal of hygiene and environmental health.
  • Pictures: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pxhere.com, pixabay