Dentist, Fluoride and Milk — Oh My!

by Ellen

Photo Credit: hive on flickr

Recently our seven-year-old son was ready to give me the Bad Mommy of the Year Award.  I had to agree with him — but for a different reason.   It all started with his semi-annual trip to the dentist for a teeth cleaning.  I made sure to phone the dentist’s office ahead of time to request that he not be given the fluoride paint job at the end of the visit — you know, the one where the kids can’t eat any crunchy foods for several hours afterwards lest the protective coating break off.  (I figure that if I call in my request ahead of time I can prevent any unpleasantness while he’s sitting in the chair and I have to explain that we don’t DO fluoride treatments.)

Everything was going along fine, until the hygienist took me aside and suggested that we start a fluoride rinse at home, since I wasn’t allowing her to paint his teeth.  Here’s where I am not proud of myself:  I nodded meekly and even asked what brand she would recommend, knowing full well that there was no way I was going to allow my child to use a rinse.  I just wanted to avoid confrontation and leave the office as quickly as possible.  (I vow here and now to speak up next time and set a good example by 1) telling the truth and not sending confusing messages, and 2) standing behind my beliefs.)

While the dentist was talking to me, I could hear the hygienist explaining to our son how we were now going to use a rinse at home, how long he should swish, etc.  I tuned into their conversation just long enough to hear my little angel point out that his school has special fluoride rinses, but he doesn’t take part.  Uh oh.  This new information precipitated a talking-to by the hygienist that we should strongly consider starting the rinses in the fall, when school resumes.  At this point I spoke up bravely and said that we don’t feel the need to participate in the school’s program because our son has never had a cavity.  She looked at me with a mixture of pity and sternness adding that “we’d like to keep it that way.”

The walk to the car went something like this:

Son:  (excited voice) Can I pick the flavor at Target?

Me: (noticing that we are walking directly past the dentist’s window) We’ll talk about it later.

Son:  Why?

In the car….

Son:  Can I use a rinse?

Me:  No.  I don’t believe in using extra fluoride.  I think it’s poisonous.

Son:  But they said I should use one.

Me:  I know, but I am doing my very best job to keep you as healthy as possible.  Blah, blah, blah…

The conversation deteriorates at this point.

Why we don’t use supplemental fluoride

Fluoride treatments always gave me a stomachache as a child and they make my son gag and feel ill, too.  I remember vividly the old goop-filled trays that slowly dripped their thinly-disguised chemical taste against the back of my throat.  After each appointment, my mother would rush me to the nearest store to fill my stomach with any food to help sop up the fluoride. It really hurt.  I don’t want my son to go through that same torture.  How can something that’s supposed to be good for us make us feel so ill?  More importantly, I have heard the horror stories about fluoride — that many European countries refuse to fluoridate their water; that it can harm bones and cause spots on the teeth; that it’s linked to lower IQ; that it’s poison…  I decided I needed a little more information about fluoride.

Here are a few tidbits I found:

  • Fluoride Action Network (FAN) is an international coalition of scientists, medical professionals, environmentalists and activists seeking to educate policymakers and the public about fluoride’s toxicity.  FAN also monitors world-wide legislation regarding fluoride.  This website is loaded with information about fluoride.  Be sure not to miss the sources of fluoride and fluoride health effects database.                                                                                                                I was surprised to learn that many foods contain fluoride.  Did you know that pesticides contribute to our fluoride intake as well?  How about the fact the baby formula made with fluoridated water can contain 100-200 times as much fluoride as breast milk?  Teflon pans and mechanically-separated chicken are some other surprising sources.
  • Don’t Swallow Your Toothpaste is a British video about the toxic effects of fluoride — worth watching!
  • Statements From European Health, Water and Environment Authorities on Water Fluoridation.  See which countries don’t fluoridate their water.  It’s interesting to note the reasons; some cite concern over forced medication of residents while others worry about toxicity.  Some countries consider the economic cost.
  • In 2005, Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group wrote a petition letter to National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health asking them to list fluoride from tap water in their Authoritative Report on Carcinogens.  In his letter, Wiles cites several sources of evidence that fluoride can lead to a rare form of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in growing boys.  Read through the letter to see the research backing this claim.
  • CDC still comes out strongly in favor of community water fluoridation.  In fact, they cite fluoridation of drinking water as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the last century.  CDC lists guidelines for safe use of fluoride.
  • Health Canada has expressed concern over the level of fluoride small children consume because of risk of fluorosis.  Health Canada recommends no fluoride drops or supplements for children and suggest that people of all ages talk to their dentist before using a fluoride-containing rinse.
  • The National Academy of Sciences issued a report stating that the EPA standard for fluoride in drinking water is not protective.  They conclude that high levels of fluoride can lead to bone fractures and loss of tooth enamel.
  • UPDATE 7/2/10:  Dr. Mercola published an excellent post about fluoride yesterday.
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a good source of technical information about fluoride sources and health effects.  ATSDR states:

Small amounts of fluoride are added to toothpaste or drinking water to help prevent dental decay. However, exposure to higher levels of fluoride may harm your health. Skeletal fluorosis can be caused by eating, drinking, or breathing very large amounts of fluorides. This disease only occurs after long-term exposures and can cause denser bones, joint pain, and a limited range of joint movement. In the most severe cases, the spine is completely rigid. Skeletal fluorosis is extremely rare in the United States; it has occurred in some people consuming greater than 30 times the amount of fluoride typically found in fluoridated water. It is more common in places where people do not get proper nutrition. At fluoride levels 5 times greater than levels typically found in fluoridated water, fluoride can result in denser bones. However, these bones are often more brittle or fragile than normal bone and there is an increased risk of older men and women breaking a bone. Some studies have also found a higher risk of bone fractures in older men and women at fluoride levels typically found in fluoridated water. However, other studies have not found an effect at this fluoride dose. If you eat large amounts of sodium fluoride at one time, it can cause stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Extremely large amounts can cause death by affecting your heart.¹

  • Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay was horrified to discover decay in his one year-old daughter’s teeth and embarked on a journey to heal her teeth through diet.  He had wonderful success in stopping the decay by providing the nourishment his little girl needed.  Here’s what Nagel has to say about fluoride:

Fluoride is poisonous.  Do not drink fluoridated water or use fluoridated toothpaste.  Do not submit to dental treatments that contain fluoride.  The obvious question should be, “Why and how could fluoride prevent tooth decay? ”  Several large scale studies involving tens of thousands of children in New Zealand, Canada and the United States show no difference between the amount of tooth decay in fluoridated and unfluoridated communities.  [source]

He continues,

Fluoride does not confer immunity to tooth decay because it is not an essential vitamin or mineral.  It is not a life-giving nutrient.  When you introduce a poison such as fluoride into your body, especially in consistent dosages over a period of years (such as what happens with fluoridated water) the internal organs become damaged from the continual exposure.  This usually happens subtly over time, so it is difficult to observe its immediate effects.  Fluoride’s insidious effect on tooth enamel is seen in a condition called dental fluoridosis: the white spots, pitting, or mottling of tooth enamel.  Fluoride actually alters the natural biological creation of tooth enamel and creates false, more brittle tooth enamel (which now contains fluorapatite).  This false enamel is no better at preventing tooth decay than regular tooth enamel in the long term.  A stronger barrier to bacteria is not what keeps decay at bay, but rather a balanced internal body chemistry with blood rich in nutrients.²


How do we protect our teeth without fluoride?

Nutrient-dense, real, wholesome foods affect our bodies in positive ways.  Our teeth, like our bones, are a part of the whole system. Weston A. Price was a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930’s studying the diets of different cultures.  He discovered that societies eating their traditional foods (regardless of what those traditional foods were) had beautiful teeth, with almost no decay.  What’s more, the facial structure of these people had developed in such a way to easily accommodate the teeth without crowding.  I highly recommend reading his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which is an account of his discoveries.  If you’d prefer to read the book online, here is a version that’s in public domain in many countries.

Our teeth benefit from foods that supply fat-soluble vitamins (D and K) and the fat needed to properly absorb them.  (Can you say, butter?!)  We also need to eat foods rich in calcium and phosphorous for good dental health.  “Modern” foods that contribute to tooth decay include refined white flour and sugar.

Read more about diet and tooth health:

  • Stephen from Whole Health Source wrote an excellent post about reversing tooth decay naturally.
  • Ramiel Nagel’s, Cure Tooth Decay is another book I recommend.  Nagel has extensively researched the links between certain foods and dental health.  Did you know that many foods contain anti-nutrients, which can interfere with nutrient absorption?  That’s why so many cultures have traditionally soaked their nuts, seeds, and grains.  A diet high in anti-nutrients (phytates, oxaltes) can also harm teeth. has a podcast interview with Ramiel Nagel that’s very informative.  Also, be sure to visit Nagel’s website.

What about toothpaste?

My husband and I have been using fluoridated toothpaste.  I always figured if I rinsed and spit it out I wasn’t absorbing any of the chemicals, because I wasn’t eating much toothpaste.  While a topical application of fluoride is different from a systemic one, I’m sure I swallow some fluoride every time I brush.  I can taste the toothpaste when I’m done, after all.

Our son uses toothpaste infrequently.  We ended up buying him the fluoride-containing brand with SpongeBob on the tube, because the “natural,” fluoride-free toothpaste for kids without the cartoon character just couldn’t compete.  He rarely uses it, mostly brushing with just a wet toothbrush.

Now I am definitely looking into fluoride-free alternatives for us all.  Any ideas?  If you’ve successfully made the switch to tooth soap, please let me know!

Adding insult to injury — Milk

We picked our son up from school the same day as the dentist visit.  He was excited about the nutrition magic show the whole school had just seen.  Walking home, he exclaimed, “I don’t drink the healthiest kind of milk, Mommy.”  (We drink whole milk only.  See why here.)  “I should be drinking low-fat 1% milk!”  Arrrrgh!

How ironic that whole milk from grass-fed cows is so full of the minerals and fat-soluble vitamins that we need for healthy teeth and yet here was yet another authority figure telling us we’re doing it all wrong!  So, in the eyes of my son, twice that day I came off looking like a kook bucking the established wisdom.  Well, if the shoe fits…

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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1)  The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Public Health Statement for Fluorides, Hydrogen Fluoride, and Fluorine, September, CAS# 121-75-5.  (accessed 6/23/10)

2)  Nagel, Ramiel. Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition, Los Gatos: Golden Child Publishing, 2009.

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