How much fluoride do you need to protect your teeth?
If you’re like most Americans, you probably get fluoride in the water from your home’s faucet. Local governments began adding it to water supplies in 1945 to help prevent tooth decay. The American Dental Association continues to support adding fluoride to drinking water because it provides regular protection against constant snacking and sipping acidic drinks, says highly rated Dr. Maria Lopez Howell, a consumer advisor for the ADA. “It’s nature’s cavity fighter,” she says.
Yet some health and environmental experts say fluoridated water isn’t necessary because Americans can get it from toothpaste and mouthwash. Opponents point to studies that show too much fluoride can discolor children’s teeth. Some others cite studies done in China that link too much fluoride to lower intellectual abilities in children.
Whether the water that comes into your home has fluoride or not, you can influence how much you take in. Read on for a better understanding of your options.
•If you live in a community that adds fluoride to the water supply, or you have a well with trace deposits of fluoride, and it’s something you want, then drink in peace, Howell says. “After looking at all the evidence, we can still say the appropriate use of fluoride at home, at your dentist’s office and in your community water are all helpful in preventing tooth decay,” she says.
•If you don’t get fluoridated water from the tap, ask your dentist for a fluoride treatment during your next dental visit if he or she doesn’t recommend it, says Dr. Matt Schapper a dentist at highly rated Dental Health P.C. in Corvallis, Oregon. The dentist can brush a fluoride coating onto your teeth or give you fluoride foam trays to wear over your teeth for a few minutes during your visit
Schapper says most dental plans cover the cost.
•If you have toddlers or children whose permanent teeth haven’t sprouted yet, ask your dentist or doctor to prescribe fluoride supplements. Dentists often prescribe chewables for toddlers and prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste for adults at risk of more severe tooth decay, Schapper says. Some bottled waters also contain fluoride, but check the labels, Howell says.
•Use fluoride toothpaste daily. Adults need only a pea-size drop to benefit from the topical treatment. Howell says children under 3 years old need even less. “A smear on their toothbrush is enough,” she says.”
•Mouthwashes with fluoride can help rinse away sugary treats like soda, and provide a topical protection, Schapper says.
Want to limit fluoride?
•If you want to reduce how much fluoride you and your family digest, a reverse osmosis water filtration system can help. It’s the most inexpensive way to continuously remove fluoride, along with lead, copper and pesticides, from drinking water, says Andrew Wilson, president of highly rated Angel Water in Barrington, Illinois.
A reverse osmosis water filtration system taps into your community’s water supply and uses a semi-permeable membrane filter to remove fluoride, Wilson says. In-home systems are installed under the sink or in the basement and include a dedicated water line to a separate faucet. Wilson says some systems can produce 50 gallons of non-fluoride water a day.
The cost to install an in-home reverse osmosis system starts at $400, but some can exceed $1,000, says Michael Crocker, president of highly rated Mr. Water Company in New Port Richey, Florida. Filters used in the machines cost about $100 and should be replaced annually, he says.
•If you don’t want to alter the water at your tap by adding a dedicated fluoride-free water line, you can buy bottled water treated via reverse osmosis, Wilson says. He recommends you ask the supplier how often they change filters. If you get it from a supermarket or retailer with a dispenser, check the service dates on the machines you use to tap the water.
•Distilled water is another way to get non-fluoridated water. It’s essentially boiled water where the steam has been captured and cooled. You can buy a countertop machine to treat your tap water for about $150. A whole-house distillation system costs about $2,000, including installation, Wilson says.
If you buy bottled water, don’t be misled by labels, Wilson says. Many purified or distilled water brands are not free of fluoride, he says. Wilson suggests you check the manufacturer’s label for information about the filtration process and ingredients it’s designed to remove.