Fluoride: Good or Bad?

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Let’s have an honest conversation about fluoride because many people may be confused. Regardless of what you believe, there are some interesting considerations about fluoride that you likely haven’t heard. 

For the past 70 years, Fluoride has been one of the only substances intentionally added to municipal water. Over 70% of Americans consume fluoridated public water. It’s important that we use extreme caution with ANYTHING that we are putting in our water, which is why Fluoride is one of the most studied topics. In this guide, we will uncover Fluoride’s benefits, potential risks, and its role in our lives.

What is Fluoride?

It’s hard to talk about dental health without using the word fluoride. But, what is this substance that has found its way into our toothpaste, mouthwash, and even water?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is naturally found in various concentrations in all water sources, ranging from the ocean to rivers and even groundwater. Sodium Fluoride is an inorganic salt of Fluoride that is easily dissolved in water and has no color, taste or smell. 


Why do dental professionals believe fluoride to be crucial for our dental health? Here’s a brief history.  In 1901, a dentist named Frederick McKay, moved to Colorado Springs to open a dental practice. When he arrived he found many of the residents had serious brown stains on their teeth. When he was unable to find information on this disorder he began to search for the answer. After 30 years of research, MaKay identified excessive amounts of fluoride in the water supply as the source of the brown stain. He noted that the stained teeth were surprisingly resistant to decay – which has made fluoride one of the most studied substances in the past century.    

What are the benefits of Fluoride?

The benefits of Fluoride, particularly for oral health, are extensive and well-documented. Its leading use case lies in its ability to fight tooth decay, but it doesn’t stop there. Fluoride, when used correctly, can offer several other oral health benefits.

Fluoride fights tooth decay in two critical ways. It strengthens tooth enamel, which is the outer protective layer of our teeth, making it more resistant to acid attacks that can cause cavities. This is particularly important for children whose teeth are still developing and are more susceptible to decay.

Secondly, Fluoride can reverse the early stages of tooth decay. It’s normal for most people to over time damage our teeth from poor diet and hygiene, this can lead to cavities. But, with Fluoride, it’s possible to remineralize the teeth, effectively reversing the early signs of tooth decay.

Is Fluoride bad for you?

Let’s start with some of the main concerns. Like many substances ingesting large amounts of Fluoride can be deadly although this is extremely rare. This is why you see the note about calling poison control if ingested. Although it sounds scary, death from Fluoride is extremely rare in the United States.

When acutely consumed in high doses, fluoride can cause an upset stomach and digestional issues. Prolonged high level exposure can lead to:

Dental fluorosis – This is the condition that helped Dr. McKay discover the fluoride effect on tooth enamel. Dental Fluorosis present in several varieties depending on how severe. It can range from extremely discolored (brown) teeth to just some mild white spots. [find pics of this] Generally only children are prone to this condition if overexposure occurs while they are developing their permanent teeth. 

Skeletal fluorosis – Chronic excessive ingestion is associated with skeletal fluorosis. This condition is extremely rare and effects can range from mild joint pain to osteoporosis and neurological effects.

Other studies have linked Fluoride to Thyroid problems, Neurological problems and a whole host of other conditions.

Recently the list of conspiracy theories keeps growing, including lowering children’s IQ, cancer, diabetes – or all major health concerns. 

Here’s where people are confused – they only want to see things as either “good” or “bad .”This is mentally easier to do than truly understanding the nuances of when something can be good for you or bad.

There are many things in our world and in our life that can be both good and bad, and like nearly EVERYTHING we ingest. Fluoride is one of them. Imagine if I asked you if eating foods containing fat was good or bad – not such a simple answer. 

As with many things in life, the mantra “too much of a good thing can be bad” also holds true for Fluoride.

While Fluoride is beneficial for oral health, excessive consumption over a long period can lead to dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is characterized by changes in the appearance of tooth enamel, resulting in faint white lines or streaks or a pitted appearance. It’s most commonly seen in children between the ages of one and four when the teeth are still developing.

However, it’s important to note that dental fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic issue and doesn’t cause pain or affect the functioning of the teeth. Most cases are mild, and often only a dental professional would notice the white spots during an examination. So while it can be a genuine concern, reporting this side effect can be exaggerated. 

What does Fluoride do to your body?

You might be wondering what happens to the Fluoride you ingest, whether through water, toothpaste, or other means. Does it only affect your teeth, or does it have broader impacts on your body?

When you consume Fluoride, it becomes a part of your saliva, constantly bathing your teeth and helping to prevent tooth decay.

But, the story doesn’t end in the mouth. Some of the Fluoride gets absorbed and circulated throughout your body before it’s eventually excreted in urine. 

While the primary and most direct benefits of Fluoride are on dental health, it’s also been found in other areas of the body such as bones. However, the concentration in these areas is significantly less than in teeth and bones.

Is Fluoride good or bad for your teeth?

It’s a tough argument to say Fluoride isn’t beneficial when used in oral care products and treatments that focus directly on the teeth. 

The American Dental Association supports the use of fluoride on a risk basis, meaning systemic fluoride is prescribed depending on a person’s need and health, and topical fluoride in toothpaste is recommended to be used twice per day. 

Just like your answer to eating foods containing fat – I think a good consensus with Fluoride is that it is likely very beneficial for topical use.

There are two ways Fluoride is used:

1) Topical Fluoride – like fluoride treatments at the dentist, mouthwashes and toothpaste.

2) Systemic Fluorides – like adding Fluoride to water, food products, or any other way fluoride is ingested.

When it comes to the question, “Is fluoride good or bad for your teeth?” the answer is overwhelmingly on the side of good. Fluoride has been extensively researched for over 70 years, and it’s been proven to reduce cavities in both children and adults.

Fluoride works by making your teeth more resistant to the acid attacks that can cause cavities. This is achieved by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it less susceptible to these attacks. The process is that fluoride in toothpaste helps strengthen tooth enamel by preventing the breakdown. Moreover, Fluoride can also help repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay becomes visible.

While the benefits of Fluoride are significant, it’s not a magic bullet. Good oral health practices, such as regular brushing and flossing, eating a balanced diet, and visiting the dentist regularly, are all essential components of maintaining good oral health.

Why is Fluoride added to water and toothpaste?

The practice of adding Fluoride to water and toothpaste is rooted in its potent ability to prevent tooth decay. Community water fluoridation is an effective, safe, and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay. It benefits not only children but adults as well, helping to protect everyone’s teeth from decay. IF you are trying to limit your fluoride ingestion, and are doing a good job taking care of your teeth, then removing fluoride from your drinking water likely will not cause any problems. 

The story with toothpaste is similar. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is an easy, effective way to provide topical Fluoride to the teeth, helping to prevent cavities. It’s one of the most successful preventive health measures ever implemented.

Is Fluoride in water dangerous?

The question of whether Fluoride in water is dangerous is a subject of ongoing debate. However, according to the World Health Organization and numerous international studies, optimally fluoridated water — that is, water containing the right amount of Fluoride for maximum dental health benefits — poses no known health risks.

The keyword here is “optimally.” This means that there’s just enough Fluoride to maximize the protection against tooth decay but not so much that it causes other health problems. 

The U.S. Public Health Service has set the optimal fluoride level at 0.7 parts per million to prevent tooth decay while minimizing the risk of dental fluorosis.

How Do You Know Water is Fluoridated?

If you’re wondering whether your tap water is fluoridated, you’re not alone. It’s not something you can’t determine by taste or appearance. The best way to find out is to contact your local water provider.

Water providers in the U.S. are required to send their customers a yearly report (known as a Consumer Confidence Report or Water Quality Report) that provides information about the water’s source and the level of contaminants, including Fluoride.

How do you know Fluoride is inside over-the-counter dental products?

How can you tell if your toothpaste or mouthwash contains Fluoride? The answer is straightforward: check the label. Over-the-counter dental products that contain Fluoride will list it as an active ingredient. The label will also indicate the amount of Fluoride in the product, usually measured in parts per million (ppm).

Is it ok to use Fluoride every day?

Using Fluoride every day is not just OK; it’s actually recommended! Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay.

Fluoride is safe and effective in preventing and controlling dental caries when used appropriately. However, it is essential to use the right amount. Ingesting too much Fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis, especially in children under the age of eight when permanent teeth are still developing.

In addition to brushing, rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash can also be beneficial. However, it’s important to remember that these rinses are not recommended for children under six years old, as they may swallow them.

What is the Correct Amount of Fluoride?

The FDA requires fluoride toothpaste to contain very precise amounts which is generally  between 1,000 ppm and 1100 ppm in toothpaste. You can control the amount you get by how much toothpaste you use.  For instance, children under the age of three should use just a smear or rice sized amount of toothpaste with at least 1,000 ppm fluoride. Children aged three to six should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste that contains more than 1,000 ppm fluoride.

Adults can benefit from products with higher fluoride concentrations. For adults with a high risk of tooth decay, a prescription fluoride toothpaste, which contains 5,000 ppm fluoride, may be recommended.

A fluoride mouthwash can also be beneficial, especially for those at high risk of dental decay. However, these mouthwashes should be used at different times to brushing to avoid washing the toothpaste off your teeth.


Fluoride is a fascinating compound. Despite being such a simple mineral, it plays a significant role in maintaining our oral health. Its cavity-fighting properties and its role in strengthening tooth enamel are invaluable in our fight against tooth decay.

While there are some potential downsides to excessive fluoride consumption, using the right amount of Fluoride is not only safe but essential for good dental health. 

Whether it’s in your toothpaste, mouthwash, or even in the water you drink, Fluoride is tirelessly working to protect your teeth. 

However, remember that Fluoride is not a standalone solution. It’s vital to combine its use with good oral hygiene habits. Brush and floss regularly, limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, and ensure regular visits to the dentist.

So, the next time you brush your teeth or take a sip of water, you might just appreciate Fluoride a little bit more.

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Author and Medical Reviewer

Erica Anand is a certified dental expert. She holds a BA in Chemistry and a Doctorate of Dental Surgery from Stony Brook University. After completing a two-year pediatric dentistry program, she now runs a private practice focusing on preventive dentistry and is a member of the American Association of Dental Consultants.

Editorial Director

Marcus Ramsey has been a professional writer for over seven years. He has talked about and produced content for industries like Dentistry, Healthcare, and more.

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