Whether it is eating too many servings of ice cream or getting way too much sleep, most of us are familiar with the concept of getting too much of a good thing. However, what happens when this applies to the health guidelines established by the medical establishment?

Too Much Fluoride

That appears to be the case with a recent finding by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the amount of fluoride that is recommended for kids. While fluoride has been largely credited with a significant decrease in the incidence of cavities and tooth decay, it now seems that we may be giving too much of it to children.

The problem stems from the fact that for many children, there are multiple sources of fluoride, including their drinking water, toothpaste, supplements, and even in some commercially available beverages. The situation is complicated by the fact that in various communities, the levels of fluoride are not always standardized, making it difficult to quantify how much fluoride a child is actually getting.

The Consequences

In what is believed to be the result of too much fluoride, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that there has been an increase in streaking or spottiness in the teeth of adolescents (aged 12 to 15 years), a condition known as fluorosis.

The incidence of fluorosis has become more common, rising from 23% (in children between the ages of 12 to 15 years) in the '80s to 41% by 2004. In severe cases, fluorosis can lead to pits forming on the teeth. As a consequence, officials are now, for the first time in 50 years, lowering their recommendations for the level of fluoride that should be in the drinking water supply.

The Purpose of Fluoride

Health officials are quick to stress that this is not necessarily a health problem because the effects of fluorosis, which are often undetectable, are minor compared to the severe consequences of cavities and tooth decay. In most cases, fluorosis can only be seen by a dentist or trained professional.

The impetus to add fluoride to the water supply stems from a study in the '40s that revealed that people who lived near water supplies that had naturally higher levels of fluoride also had lower rates of tooth decay. After these findings, governments began adding fluoride to municipal water, especially in big cities.

Most public water supplies are now fluoridated, and it has been estimated that 64% of the people in this country drink fluoridated water. People who live in rural areas or obtain their water from wells are often given fluoride supplements from their doctors.

The Controversy

The current findings are sure to fuel the fire of controversy over fluoride, which in high doses can be toxic (just read the warnings on your toothpaste). This debate is especially true in the case of adding fluoride to public drinking water.

In addition to the wealth of conspiracy theories, water consumption patterns also vary across the country, depending on the average daily temperatures as well as the popularity of bottled water and soft drinks.

Whatever your stand is on fluoride, it is important for parents to be informed and to ultimately make the best decision regarding their children's health. If you have questions or concerns, voice them to your dentist and pediatrician. For more information on fluoride, visit the website for the Fluoride Information Network (FIN) and Kid's Health.

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