Tapping Into Tap Water: Fluoride for All?

Water is an essential nutrient.

For most of my life I never really thought much about fluoride or my drinking water. My teeth are in pretty good shape, and the only time I thought about fluoride to any extent was when I taught a college level introductory nutrition class. The text books noted the “benefits” of fluoride in preventing tooth decay, and then always showed the classic brown spots on tooth enamel due to overexposure of fluoride.  We discussed that fluoride was delivered to municipal tap water in the Chicago area (our location) and that bottled water was not typically fluoridated. While it may have natural fluoride, fluoride is not typically added to bottled water.

Fluoride is not considered to be an essential nutrient from a dietary standpoint.  For the last 70 or so years, it’s role in public health has been one of preventing tooth decay.  Once teeth have erupted through the gum, fluoride added to the tooth surface plays a role in preventing tooth decay through remineralization of the weaker spots on the tooth enamel as well as controlling the amount of acid that bacteria of plaque produce.  Indeed, I remember even as a young adult having fluoride treatments in the dental office because I had great dental insurance and it was covered. And, of course, there is lifelong use of fluoridated toothpaste.

But, should it be delivered to everyone in tap water when all are not at the same risk for tooth decay?

For the municipalities that deliver fluoridated water, there is no choice in the matter. If you want to avoid ingesting fluoride in the Chicago area, you must find a means to remove it from your tap water or stick with purchasing spring water. Although safety limits are set in terms of public health policies on safe fluoride levels, it is a one-size fits all situation.

According to a recent article in the Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (2018), these points should be considered regarding fluoridation of water and dental health:

  • Current evidence clearly suggests that the protective mechanism of action of fluoride is mainly topical.  In other words, we do not need to be ingesting fluoride to reap the dental benefits.
  • 1% of the population appears to be highly sensitive to fluoride (yes, I am in that 1%).
  • Certain subsets may be particularly vulnerable to ingesting fluoride: the elderly, diabetics, the malnourished.
  • Once the fluoride is put into the water, what about those individuals that need to inherently consume larger quantities of water? Those individuals might include manual laborers, diabetics, and athletes.
  • Interestingly, on the international front, most European countries have rejected water fluoridation. Only Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom practice water fluoridation.

While the debate on the pros and cons of fluoridated water will most likely rage on, there are a few other dietary factors that come to mind for preventing tooth decay in the young and old:

  • Choosing a healthy diet low in sugar will help prevent tooth decay. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables will stimulate saliva production to help rinse the sugar away.
  • Avoiding cariogenic foods like sugar, sticky foods (like raisins), and soda will help prevent tooth decay.  
  • If indulging in sugary foods, try not to do so all day long. Best to splurge and then brush, instead of exposing your teeth all day long.
  •  Apply that fluoride through toothpaste, mouth rinse, and in the dental chair.

My last comment will be simply that in the concept of “clean eating”, I see no reason to be putting fluoride into my digestive tract.

Where do you stand on the issue of ingesting fluoride through tap water?

My Food Sensitivity Journey: A Dietitian’s Personal Perspective

To eat or not??

When I was 40 years old, I became very ill-so ill I headed to the emergency room. The doctors said something was going around and I should go home to rest.  And rest I did! In fact, for at least a week I was barely able to move.  I followed up with my primary care physician who proceeded to do a complete medical evaluation.  All tests came back negative.  So, I rested some more and tried to pretend that I felt normal.  As time progressed, I mentioned my fatigue issues to every physician I saw, and the responses ranged from “You have medical conditions that cause fatigue- IBS, fibromyalgia, asthma”, to “You seem OK, you aren’t acting tired now”, to “You are the healthiest patient I’ve seen today!” My energy levels continued to wax and wane. Sometimes I was near normal and other times I needed to drag myself to bed. Fatigue was my partner in life, and although rest didn’t solve everything, I was often tired enough that I simply could not move. My goal became to get through the day as a functioning person and carry on with my commitments as best I could.

During the second 50 years of my life, it seemed that my energy levels were worsening. I figured at this point I was functioning at less than 50% of normal. Then, last year, a college friend asked me about food sensitivity testing as she was considering going that route due to ongoing headaches and IBS symptoms. I told her I had mixed feelings about it, but said that maybe we could go down that path together.  I am so grateful that I took that path as my life has actually changed course.

Food sensitivity testing is controversial. Some medical “experts” question accuracy of any food sensitivity testing process and the clinical relevance to a patient.  For those practitioners that feel it may help a patient, there is controversy as to the best test to use. I used the Alcat test which evaluates how your white blood cells react in contact with various foods, chemicals, and food additives.  Based on your white cell response, your reaction to various foods, additives, and chemicals is assessed on a scale of non-reactive to severe.

It’s important to keep in mind that food sensitivity testing is different from allergy testing. With an allergy, there may be an immediate response. With a food sensitivity, the response in terms of symptoms may be delayed by days so it does become difficult to determine what foods may be problematic. In my case, I would never have been able to succeed by just eliminating foods speculated as often problematic because one of my severe responses was to fluoride. Turn on the tap water and there is fluoride.  Grab coffee at a restaurant, there is fluoride. Grab that toothpaste, there is fluoride. That is just one example of how the testing can help you come up with a customized eating plan just for you.  I would never have been able to determine that something found in my water was a contributing factor in causing my fatigue, muscle, and joint pain.

Today, I still look OK but I also feel pretty good!  I am now able to work with a trainer, and regularly work out on a treadmill and elliptical.  I even have competitions with my active grandchildren to see who can get the most steps in a day!  My energy level is far more consistent, and when I’m tired, that’s all it is-tired, and not fatigued to the point of being unable to move.  I have come a long way from the fatigue that has haunted me for the last 25 years.  I am so thankful that I was able to access testing.  While it can be very challenging to make the necessary dietary changes, it is worth the effort if the quality of your life changes!  My only regret is waiting so long.

Do you have a personal story to share about your food sensitivity testing experience and outcome?