Dig In: Fluoridated Tap Water or Not? (Pineapple Mint Water & more infusions)

February 23, 2009

Photo: Filipe Ferreira

All we really drink on a regular basis in our house, other than milk, is water. We drink so much, in fact, that I’ve gotten into the terrible habit of buying a case of bottled water every week. I know: shame on me! It’s a huge waste and studies increasingly show that bottled water is rarely, if ever, better than tap water.

But, before weaning us from our money wasting, eco-depraved ways, I decided to learn more about my local tap water. As it turns out, NYC is renowned for quality H2O… but it’s fluoridated. And we’re not the only ones. 46 of the 50 largest American cities have fluoridated water. And even bottled water companies are getting in on fluoride Is this a good thing?

So what’s the scoop on fluoridated water?

Fluoride is a reduced form of fluorine that can take many forms, one of which is widely believed to prevent tooth decay. The use of fluoride in dental hygiene, including water fluoridation, has been endorsed by the American Dental Association (ADA) for over five decades. The fluoridation of water, which began in the 1940’s and 50’s, is also considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to be “one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

But some doctors, dentists, and researchers are having second thoughts about water fluoridation, believing that too much fluoride can lead to serious health problems. And not just dental (i.e., dental fluorosis), but ones related to bone, brain, kidney, and thyroid health. In 2006, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in the nation’s drinking water “should be lowered.” And even the ADA acknowledges that too much fluoride can be harmful.

Claimed pros

There’s really only one health claim made about fluoridated water: that it helps prevent tooth decay. But why add fluoride to water?

  • It is inexpensive and the most efficient way of preventing tooth decay.
  • According to the ADA, every $1 most cities spend on water fluoridation prevents $38 in dental treatment costs.
  • Community water fluoridation especially benefits those without access to regular dental care.

Claimed cons

  • There is mounting evidence–and even agreement from the CDC–that fluoride is most effective when applied topically, not ingested.
  • According to a 2001 analysis by the CDC, drinking fluoridated water cuts the rate of tooth decay 18% to 40%, which translates to fewer than one decayed tooth per person.
  • Data from the World Health Organization corroborates that the same reductions in tooth decay that have occurred in the U.S. over the past 50 years (often credited to fluoridated water) have also occurred in all western countries, most of which have never added fluoride to their water.

The bottom line

The question doesn’t seem to be fluoride or no fluoride, but rather how much fluoride is safe and whether it should be administered through municipal water supplies. Especially given that the research about and our exposure to fluoride today is quite different than is was when fluoridated water was first implemented. So, what’s the bottom line?

  • The CDC recommends that in communities where fluoride levels are greater than 2 ppm, parents should provide kids with water from other sources.
  • The ADA also recognizes that infants need less fluoride than older kids and adults. Some infants may be getting too much fluoride in the water used to reconstitute infant formula. If you’re concerned that your infant may be getting too much fluoride, talk with your doctor or dentist, who may recommend ready-to-feed formula or formula reconstituted with fluoride-free or low-fluoride water.

Decide for yourself

You can learn about how much fluoride is in your tap water here. I’ve also provided a list of resources so you can fact check on your own. If you’re sure that you don’t want your child drinking your town’s fluoridated water, you can opt for bottled (though keep in mind that some bottled water contains fluoride–and this doesn’t even get into the whole BPA issue), or do good by Mama Earth and look into a reverse osmosis water filters that can eliminate fluoride from your tap water.

Phew. Thirsty for a tall, cold glass of water? Hope so. Because fluoride or not, water is the healthiest way to quench your little one’s thirst. I personally find the straight-up kind most refreshing, but these infusions are a fun treat and healthy alternative to juice.

Orange Basil Infused Water

can be served to kids 12+ mos*

2 organic oranges, cut into 1/4″ slices

8 fresh organic basil leaves

1. Combine 2 quarts water, oranges, and basil in large pitcher. Let steep for 1 hour before serving over ice.

Cucumber Mint Infused Water

can be served to kids 12+ mos*

1 medium organic cucumber, well cleaned

10 organic mint leaves

1. Remove strips of cucumber skin, creating 1/2-inch-wide alternating bands of peeled and bare cucumber. Trim and discard ends. Halve cucumber lengthwise; cut into 1/2-inch slices. Combine cucumber, mint, and 2 quarts of water in large pitcher; steep for 1 hour, and serve over ice.

Pineapple Mint Infused Water (from Martha Stewart)

can be served to kids 12+ mos*

1/4 organic pineapple, cut into triangles

8-10 organic mint leaves

1. Place 8 cups of water in a pitcher or large bowl. Add pineapple and mint leaves. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before using. Keep refrigerated up to 2 days. Strain before serving.

Lime Rosemary Water (from Martha Stewart)

can be served to kids 12+ mos*

2 organic limes, cut into 1/4″ slices

2 sprigs fresh, organic rosemary, cut into small pieces

1 organic orange

1. Combine 2 quarts water, limes, and rosemary in large pitcher. Squeeze juice of orange into water; add rind. Let steep for 1 hour before serving over ice.

*It is recommended that children 6-12 mos be introduced small sips of water as directed by your pediatrician. Full servings should only be given to children 12+ mos.


The Fluoride Action Network

Professional Perspectives: Fluoride in Water (video)

The CDC page on Community Water Fluoridation

The CDC page on the Benefits of Fluoride

American Dental Association Facts on Fluoride & Water Fluoridation

Government Panel Raises Concerns About Fluoride (Wall Street Journal)

How to Remove Fluoride from Drinking Water

4 Responses

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