While those who promote fluoride surely do so with the best of intentions, it also requires overlooking a lot of scientific evidence. As we noted before, an array of health risks have been linked to fluoride exposure – diabetes, hypertension, thyroid dysfunction, and more – while fluoride’s dental benefits are far more modest than usually advertised, slowing decay without actually preventing it.

Even then, the benefit applies only when fluoride is applied topically. There’s no known dental benefit from swallowing it, as with fluoridated water.

And when the one doing the swallowing is a pregnant woman, the exposure can be harmful to her baby’s developing brain – a reality that was highlighted in the National Toxicology Program’s comprehensive 6-year review of the science that we blogged about earlier. As you may recall, its authors found “a large body of evidence” that fluoride exposure in utero is associated with lower IQ in children.

The reviewers also found some evidence of other negative neurodevelopmental and cognitive effects in children exposed to fluoride in the womb. However, they were less confident in these findings, as the results of the relevant studies were quite inconsistent.

Simply, more research is needed – research such as the study which dropped last month in JAMA Open Network.

To investigate the effects of prenatal fluoride on child neurobehavior – how a child’s brain influences their thoughts, feelings, and actions as they grow – the research team used data from MADRES, a large ongoing study of how environmental exposures and social stressors affect maternal and child health outcomes, particularly in low-income Hispanic populations in Los Angeles.

Spot urine samples were collected during the third trimester of 229 pregnant women and used to measure their fluoride exposure. Three years later, each mother completed the Preschool Child Behavior Checklist, a tool used to evaluate behavioral and emotional problems in young children.

Those women with significantly higher fluoride levels during pregnancy rated their toddlers’ neurobehavioral problems higher than those exposed to less of the neurotoxin. They noted issues such as emotional reactivity, anxiety, and internalizing symptoms that led to somatic complaints such as frequent headaches and stomachaches, and even behaviors associated with autism.

“This is the first U.S.-based study to examine this association,” said lead author Ashley Malin, PhD, in a news release.

Our findings are noteworthy, given that the women in this study were exposed to pretty low levels of fluoride—levels that are typical of those living in fluoridated regions within North America.

Dr. Malin and her team found that an increase of 0.68 milligrams per liter in fluoride exposure almost doubled the incidence of children showing neurobehavioral issues that met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.

The Danger of Multiple Fluoride Exposures

Compounding the threat to mothers and their unborn children is the fact that fluoride exposure comes from multiple sources every day, not just toothpaste and fluoridated water (tap or bottled). These include

  • Processed foods, as they tend to be made with fluoridated water.
  • Leaf tea, with black tea containing the most fluoride, white tea containing the least, and green falling in between. (Herbal teas are a safer bet, as they generally contain little to no fluoride.)
  • Pesticide residues. (Another reason to go organic! They may still have trace residues thanks to pesticide drift but far less than conventionally grown crops.)
  • Fluoride supplements, which are sometimes prescribed in non-fluoridated communities.
  • Certain pharmaceutical drugs, including most SSRIs and some statins.
  • Teflon cookware (and Teflon-coated dental floss, too!).

For those living near industrial areas, environmental exposures can also be an issue.

Living Fluoride-Free

Our office is 100% fluoride-free, and we do what we can to help our patients understand how to keep their exposure outside the office to a minimum.

If you live here in Boise, you’re lucky: No fluoride is added to our drinking water – as is the case for many throughout the state of Idaho. To find out if your community fluoridates, check out the CDC fluoride map here.

If you do have fluoridated water, you’ll need to choose an option for filtering it. There are a wide variety to choose from at a range of price points, from filtering pitchers to under-the-sink reverse osmosis units. You can learn more here.

And if you drink bottled water? This search tool will show you the fluoride content of more than 300 brands. The site that provides this tool has others that will help you find out the fluoride content of other products, as well.

For your oral hygiene at home, make sure you’re using a fluoride-free paste such as Boka or Wellnesse – or even one you make for yourself at home. (Here are a couple basic recipes to get you started.) If you choose to use a mouthwash, make sure the brand you choose is alcohol-free as well as fluoride-free. (Alcohol contributes to dry mouth.) As for floss, opt for a PFAS- and Teflon-free brand.

Reduce exposure to the other fluoride-containing items in the list above – BUT if you are currently taking a medication that may contain fluoride, do NOT just stop taking it. (Really, we can’t stress this point enough!) Talk with your prescribing physician. Find out if there are alternatives or if and how you can safely reduce your intake of or even transition off the medicine.

For more tips on going fluoride-free, visit truthaboutfluoride.com.