Around ten years ago, I changed my toothpaste. I did this because I’d worked out, through experimentation, that SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate), a foaming agent found in many bathroom and kitchen products, was giving me clammy hands and mouth ulcers (For more on that, please read my article SLS and mouth ulcers). Not surprisingly, as a result, I didn’t want that SLS chemical in my mouth any more. I therefore found a different toothpaste that was SLS-free. I began using it exclusively. I bought the toothpaste Aloe Dent for while, but then I became fed up with its plastic tube, so I’ve recently switched to Georganics natural toothpaste, as it comes in a jar. It also has no gelling agents.

My change in toothpaste-use came with an interesting side-effect. Because I was avoiding toothpaste containing SLS, I also ended up not brushing with fluoride, as the new brand of toothpaste did not have any SLS or fluoride in its ingredients. I did wonder, at the time, if this might cause problems with my teeth, as fluoride is continually recommended to help avoid tooth decay. As this website article states, fluoride is the ‘super-hero of cavity fighting’. I decide to continue regardless. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how I got on without fluoride. Would I get tooth decay and other dental problems?

The years have gone by and it turns out that my teeth are still fine. I have no need for fillings, I have no gum problems and although my teeth aren’t perfect (they’re naturally pale yellow and a bit wonky), everything is fine inside my mouth. It would seem that I don’t need the ‘super-hero’ fluoride to combat tooth decay. Something else has also happened. The decision to not rub fluoride on my teeth has had a clear effect and it’s the cause of this article.

Before I switched to a fluoride and SLS-free toothpaste, I enjoyed having a bit of chocolate every day, as a treat. After I made the switch, I found it more and more difficult to enjoy that treat. This wasn’t because I was feeling guilty about munching on fruit&nut loveliness. Instead, I wasn’t able to enjoy my chocolate treat because as soon as the chocolate melted in my mouth, the nerves in my teeth complained. My tooth-nerves made it very clear that they didn’t like what was swilling around inside my mouth. Eventually, I gave up my daily chocolate fix because the discomfort coming from my teeth killed off my enjoyment of the treat. Since that time, I’ve phased out all chocolate, apart from very dark chocolate (85% cocoa). I’ve also phased out sugar drinks and very hot drinks, simply because of those alarm signals from my teeth. I have to admit, it’s not been a high-minded ethical decision on my part, it’s been mostly to avoid pain.

Since I’d made a change to a fluoride-free toothpaste, I wondered if fluoride was the reason behind my teeth becoming so sensitive. I did some research. I found that fluoride, in toothpaste, acts as a mineraliser. When it is spread across our teeth during brushing, it forms a layer over our teeth, a bit like limescale on a tap. This layer covers our tooth’s surface. This can be a useful protection, like a mineral shield, but there is a downside. This mineral layer also covers the tiny holes in the tooth that allow material in our mouth to get into the tooth’s inner part, where the tooth’s nerves are sited. These holes-tunnels are known as dentinal tubules. When we brush with fluoride-toothpaste, we’re therefore blocking up these holes or tubes (as shown in the educational, third-party illustration). The nerves in our teeth can’t therefore detect what’s swilling around inside our mouth cavity, so they don’t send out pain-alarm signals. Some people do get these pain signals even when brushing with fluoride toothpaste. This is often referred to as dental hypersensitivity (although it could be called ‘natural dental sensitivity that hasn’t been stopped by a mineraliser’). GSK, or Glaxo Smith-Kline, the huge medical-pharmaceutical corporation, is very keen to stop this sensitivity. As this British Dental Journal article, Raising awareness of tooth wear and dentine hypersensitivity, states:

Dentine hypersensitivity is also widespread. 41.9% of adults have experienced it2 and over 70% of sufferers consider the sensations to take pleasure out of eating and drinking. Recommend Sensodyne Repair & Protect for daily repair from DH.

The last sentence seems more of an order than a suggestion. Sensodyne Repair & Protect, as its web page makes clear, also adds a mineral layer over the ‘vulnerable areas of the tooth where dentine is exposed’. In other words, where the tubules are open and allowing the tooth nerves to sense what’s in the mouth.

This is why fluoride, in toothpaste, is a lot like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the famous ‘pair’ of characters from Edgar Allen Poe’s classic story. The Dr Jekyll side of fluoride (the good scientist side) is that fluoride gives us a extra protective layer and less pain. The Mr Hyde side of fluoride (the bad side) is that by blocking up the tiny holes in our teeth, fluoride is effectively turning off our mouth’s alarm system. The nerves in our teeth, developed over millions of years to warn us if we’re consuming something that’s bad for our mouth and teeth, have been rendered mute. While brushing with fluoride toothpaste, a person does get an extra layer of mineral protection, as the articles and dental websites state. This is all very well, but what those sites don’t state is that fluoride has turned off our mouth’s alarm system. We can effortlessly consume food and drink that is bad for our teeth because we’re not getting any warning from our immensely sophisticated tooth-nerves about the toxicity of what we’ve put in our mouth.

Our dentists are therefore correct when they recommend fluoride toothpaste for its protective-layer benefits. Unfortunately, they also seem to be turning a blind-eye to the dark side of fluoride use. Because the dentists’ patients take their dentist’s advice on fluoride, these patients are able to painlessly swill down and chomp on sugars and acidic foods that will rot their teeth. These patients can do this easily because their teeth cannot give them a jolt of warning because the fluoride’s bunged up the detector holes in their teeth. As a result, people enjoy their treats painlessly. They have more sweet foods than is good for them… and end up with major dental problems. In this scenario, the sugar companies make lots of money, the dentists getting lots of work and no one’s lied to the public, in a way. Fortunately, here in Britain, we’re not forced down this path. We can still choose not to consume fluoride. We are able to make our own choice about whether or not we should rub this substance on our teeth.

Unfortunately, in some countries, the consumption of fluoride is unavoidable, especially in their water supply; that is the subject of the next section.

Fluoridating water

The case for, and against, smearing fluoride on our teeth is relatively clear. As this article has shown, there is a case for it but its benefits could be said to be heavily outweighed by its negative consequences. The situation is a lot weirder when we look at the case for fluoridating water. Here is the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page on water flouridation:

Water fluoridation is the controlled adjustment of fluoride to a public water supply to reduce tooth decay. Fluoridated water contains fluoride at a level that is effective for preventing cavities; this can occur naturally or by adding fluoride. Fluoridated water operates on tooth surfaces: in the mouth, it creates low levels of fluoride in saliva, which reduces the rate at which tooth enamel demineralizes and increases the rate at which it remineralizes in the early stages of cavities. Typically a fluoridated compound is added to drinking water, a process that in the U.S. costs an average of about $1.11 per person-year. Defluoridation is needed when the naturally occurring fluoride level exceeds recommended limits. In 2011 the World Health Organization suggested a level of fluoride from 0.5 to 1.5 mg/L (milligrams per litre), depending on climate, local environment, and other sources of fluoride.Bottled water typically has unknown fluoride levels.

Flouride occurs naturally in the water supplies of many countries, as it dissolves into the water as it passes through rocks containing fluoride. To quote from this WHO report, fluoride in drinking water:

Fluoride is found in all natural waters at some concentration. Seawater typically contains about 1 mg l–1 while rivers and lakes generally exhibit concentrations of less than 0.5 mg l–1. In groundwaters, however, low or high concentrations of fluoride can occur, depending on the nature of the rocks and the occurrence of fluoride-bearing minerals. Concentrations in water are limited by fluorite solubility, so that in the presence of 40 mg l–1 calcium it should be limited to 3.1 mg l–1 (Hem, 1989). It is the absence of calcium in solution which allows higher concentrations to be stable (Edmunds and Smedley, 1996).

When we drink fluoridated water, the fluorine is partly or fully absorbed by our bodies and ends up in calcium-rich areas, such as bones and teeth. Therefore, just as with fluoride toothpaste, the logic is that such flouride mineralisation helps prevent tooth decay. But as this article hopefully has already shown, artificially mineralising teeth creates serious knock-on problems, because it can numb our teeth. There is also the problem that fluoridating our water supply makes it harder for us to control fluorine intake, and too much fluorine is known to cause serious health problems. We also can’t control which part of our bodies absorb the fluorine. It therefore seems that flouridating water is not a good idea.

This short Gaia video discusses this issue. It specifically mentions the dangers of fluoride accumulation in our pineal gland. I don’t know how bad is this effect, or what a calcified pineal gland would do to a person, but it can’t be a good idea:

Endnote

There is a scientific benefit to using fluoride in toothpaste. There is also a scientific benefit of having a fluoridated water supply. The problem is that there are also clear, scientific and well-established negative consequences to brushing with fluoride toothpaste and using fluoridated water. Authorities have decided that the positive effects of fluoride outweigh the negative. I would disagree. As a final note, I’d recommend to anyone that they at least try a fluoride-free toothpaste for a while. They may find that their oral health and general health improves significantly because their teeth are, at last, able to warn them about what they shouldn’t eat and drink. As a result, that change of diet may help them, and their teeth.