Fluoride, a trace mineral, is one of the more controversial minerals. Much of the debate surrounding fluoride has to do with whether the benefits of adding fluoride to a municipal drinking water supply outweigh any potential adverse consequences. As always, there are those who feel the consequences are negligible and there are those who feel that any amount added is too much.
Although fluoride is not considered an essential mineral, it certainly plays a significant role in keeping teeth and bones healthy and strong. Fluoride helps in the fight against tooth decay. That's why it's listed as an ingredient in many brands of tooth paste. Teeth need a way to fight tooth decay and fluoride is the best weapon. As acid slowly eats through a tooth's enamel, the tooth's protective coating is breached, allowing harmful bacteria to grow and thrive. This situation may ultimately cause cavities to develop. The fluoride a person gets by regularly brushing the teeth helps make teeth better able to resist these acids.
Fluoride also plays a role in the remineralization process. Remineralization, which is the process of restoring minerals that have been lost due to use or elimination, is especially important to bones. In the case of the bones, fluoride actually helps prevent mineral loss from occurring in the first place. Fluoride actually helps bones hold on to minerals more effectively. It's believed that this function plays a big role in protecting a person against the onset of osteoporosis.
No recommended daily intake has yet been established for fluoride. The general consensus is that 1.5 mg/day for adults and no more than 2.5 mg/day for children is adequate.
Sources of fluoride
The mineral fluoride is not found in many foods. That's why it has been added to toothpaste and some drinking water supplies. Using fluoridated water for cooking is another way to get this mineral inside the body. Drinking brewed tea that has been made with fluoridated water is another option. Canned fish (including their edible bones) such as salmon is also a good source. A dentist will usually prescribe additional fluoride treatments, especially for children, to further help protect teeth from decay.
Too much fluoride, especially in children, can lead to a condition called dental fluorosis, or mottling of the teeth. The main symptom of this condition is teeth that start to yellow. Too much fluoride can also cause bones and teeth to become brittle. Brittle bones are more likely to develop fractures. Excessive levels of fluoride over time can also lead to hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the body produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. Much of the debate over adding fluoride water involves the potential risks associated with over-consumption of this mineral.
Symptoms of fluoride deficiency
The most obvious sign that a person is not getting enough fluoride is the appearance of dental carries, better known as cavities and weakened tooth enamel. Brittle bones which generally are caused by bone demineralization are also a symptom of insufficient fluoride. This situation can lead to a higher likelihood of developing bone fractures and possibly even osteoporosis.