Monday, September 14, 2015

Medical Mondays: Fluoride Toxicity and Saying No To That 100th Cup of Tea

I've been wanting to do a #MedMondays on this one for a while.

In the United States, pretty much everyone is familiar with fluoride. The element fluorine is the lightest halogen and exists as a highly toxic, yellow gas at room temperature. But we know it better in its anionic form, fluoride.

It's in our drinking water and toothpaste, and helps to prevent tooth decay and keep our teeth strong. (But did you know that several countries have chosen to no longer fluoridate their water? The CDC says it's one of the top ten greatest public health achievements. Others have argued that it's a compulsory, mass medication in our drinking water. Thoughts?)

A little too much fluoride in your drinking water (or swallowing too much toothpaste) can cause dental fluorosis, which is harmless but causes cosmetic changes to the enamel in the form of stained and pitted teeth.

What about more severe toxicity? Well, it turns out that not only your teeth are affected by fluoride, but your bones. In some areas of the world, particularly where the fluoride levels in the water are high due to contaminated water supplies or geological sources, fluorosis can occur.

Chronic fluorosis, which is from consuming too much fluoride over time, can result in denser but brittle bones, calcified ligaments, stiffness and joint pain.
The arrows are pointing to excessive calcium deposits on the forearms and spine. Source: NEJM
Acute fluoride toxicity can occur in areas after industrial explosions or accidents (like from a hydrofluoric acid spill), or more commonly by ingestion of too way much fluoride-containing dental products. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (the trifecta of GI distress! In doctor's notes, we write that as N/V/D, in case you were wondering), kidney damage, heart damage, and possibly even death.

And guess what? You can get it from tea, too. Tea plants tend to accumulate fluoride from the soil. See those x-rays up there? They were from a woman who drank >100 tea bags worth of tea every day for 17 years (read here for the New England Journal of Medicine article.)

People who drink a lot of brick tea are at risk, too. What is brick tea? I actually snapped this photo at one of my favorite tea shops, thinking it looked just like an ink stone for Asian calligraphy.

Apparently, this type of tea can be made from older tea plants, and so they accumulate more fluoride than your usual cup of tea.

For more information, check out the CDC page on dental fluorosis and the WHO page on fluorosis due to drinking water. For parents, here's the info page on dental fluorosis by

Have fun brushing your teeth and overthinking the entire process! :D


Katie O'Sullivan said...

omg. i had no idea - i mean, i knew it was bad for kids to eat toothpaste but tea? wow.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, yes, I will be overthinking it. Glad I don't drink tea. (And who could drink a hundred cups of tea a day?)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I love hot and ice tea ... but not 100 cups daily worth!! I have often wondered about flouride in our water.

Connie Keller said...

Fascinating post. I lived for several years in a community that did not have fluoridated water, and I got dental cavities. I'm sure that were other factors too, but it was a surprise since I'd only ever had one cavity in my previous 30 years of life.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

What the heck was up with the crazy tea lady???

J E Oneil said...

Ah, fluorine. It was always one of my favorite elements. I think fluoride in water is a good thing. I've never had a cavity, so it works there. But yeah, you definitely don't want to overdose. I don't think I'll be having quite so much tea as that lady...

Em-Musing said...

Phew! Glad coffee isn't a culprit. I'd have a hard time quitting. And who knew that about tea? And who knew someone could consume that much tea? She had to have been on the pot constantly.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Fascinating! I thought I drank a lot of tea (10 cups over 3 bags, so it's weak), but not compared to that lady.

Now I've got to go check out my teeth. 8-o

H.R. Sinclair said...

How does one drink 100 bags worth of tea a day? That's a strong tea--an expensive too.

Unknown said...

I have asked many forced-fluoridation fanatics to tell me how much accumulated fluoride in the body they think is safe. So far not a single one of them has been able to answer the question.

Unknown said...

The following are some good sources of information on fluoride and artificial water fluoridation: the Fluoride Action Network, Declan Waugh's work, the books The Case Against Fluoride and The Fluoride Deception, the 2006 US National Research Council report Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA's Standards, and the peer-reviewed journal Fluoride.

The forced-fluoridation experiment is medical malpractice on an industrial scale. Fluoridation chemicals are the only medications which are delivered via public water supplies. Medicating public water supplies with any chemical violates the human rights and medical ethics principle of informed consent to medical intervention, is entirely indiscriminate, results in the random dosing of residents since exposure to the chemical is uncontrolled, and is environmentally irresponsible because the vast majority of tap water is not ingested, so the environmental load is vastly greater than it would otherwise be. Medicating public water supplies means that politicians are subjecting everyone to treatment which no doctor can legally impose on anyone, and is surely the most ham-fisted method of drug delivery ever devised.

Medicating public water supplies with fluoridation chemicals is especially egregious, because fluoride is a cumulative poison with a half life in the body of around 20 years, there was no good quality scientific research which indicated that forced-fluoridation was anything but harmful and useless in the 1940s and there still isn't any, the best quality scientific research which has been conducted indicates that forced-fluoridation is in fact both harmful and useless, the fluoride pollution which is used is industrial grade rather than pharmaceutical grade, and fluoride is not biodegradable. The forced-fluoridation experiment is authoritarian, violent, criminal, irrational, archaic, pseudoscientific, a scam, and all risk, no reward for those subjected to it.

Laurel Garver said...

I'd be curious to know whether most bottled water in the US is fluoridated. Perhaps only distilled water isn't?

Jenny Woolf said...

I'd have thought someone drinking 100 teabags worth every day might have died from ingesting too much liquid - although perhaps you need even more than that.

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