There’s a very good chance that the water you drink contains fluoride — in fact, just about every sip that you take contains even the tiniest bit of this naturally occurring mineral. Although it often appears in water on its own, it wasn’t until 1945 that some areas of the United States began boosting their water with a bit of extra fluoride. That’s because scientists had discovered that year that people who drank water with higher levels of the mineral had fewer cavities.

In 1962, the United States Public Health Service echoed this sentiment and recommended that the water supply contain between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter across the nation in order to halt tooth decay. Today, that number is capped at 0.7, since there are other ways to get fluoride, including toothpastes and other dental care products, but the population still ingests a low level of it on a regular basis.

Of course, too much of a good thing can go badly, and fluoride is no exception to this rule — since its introduction into the water supply, civilians and researchers alike have questioned whether or not it’s safe over time. For one thing, an excess of the mineral can cause skeletal or dental fluorosis. The former relates to a build-up of fluoride on the bones, causing joint stiffness and achiness; the latter is the name for fluoride build-up on developing teeth, which gets in the way of proper enamel development. Obviously, these side effects have led to further questions from those concerned about even more serious potential effects. One that scientists have spent years researching is the link between fluoride and cancer.

There has been much research performed with the aid of lab rats, as well as research into fluoride-enhanced water drinkers and their likelihood of developing cancer down the line. Organizations like the American Dental Association, the National Research Council, and the USPHS, as well as the United Kingdom’s National Health Services, all agree on one thing: there’s no compelling evidence or definitive link between the ingestion of fluoride and bone cancer.

Even still, you may want to exercise caution in your use of fluoride, especially if you are helping your children to maintain their dental health. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends that children under 6 should only be brushing with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste; you should also make sure that kids don’t swallow the toothpaste afterwards, as this can deliver an unnecessarily large dose of fluoride to the system. You can also call your local water provider to see the level of fluoride they maintain in their water or have a test done on your well or otherwise privately sourced water to increase your awareness. No matter what, you’ll only be educating yourself and working to improve your family’s oral health — you can’t go wrong with that.

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