In 1945, many communities all over the United States began adding Fluoride to their water supply. According to the CDC, this single act has dramatically reduced tooth decay in children and tooth loss in adults in the United States.
There are four methods to determine if there is fluoride in your water, comprising 1) Fluoride test strips, 2) Color test kits, 3) Digital photometers, and 4) Certified laboratory testing. If you use a community water supply, the easiest method is to check the water quality report that is released each year.
In this article, we will look at what fluoride is and why it is added to your water. We will also go through reasons you may not want fluoride in your water. We also discuss in detail the methods you can use to detect fluoride in your water and some ways you can remove fluoride from your water.
What Is Fluoride And Why Is It Added To My Water?
Although fluoride occurs naturally in water, it is usually in small quantities. Because of this, most communities add fluoride to their water supply.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that is very good for dental health. Fluoride makes the outer layer, the enamel, of your teeth stronger and more resistant to acid attacks which may lead to cavities (tooth decay).
Water fluoridation is when community utility providers add fluoride to water.
This process is over 70 years old, and its benefits were stumbled upon almost by chance.
Since its first use in Grand Rapids, Michigan, more and more communities began to use this method.
This has led to a dramatic decline in the occurrence rate of caries and tooth decay among adults and children.
Because of the benefits of water fluoridation on dental health, dentistry has become a healthcare profession that majorly revolves around preventive rather than curative care.
The CDC has even named water fluoridation one of the Ten Great Public Health Interventions of the 20th Century.
The recommended level of fluoride in water by the United States Department of Health and Human Services is 0.7 milligrams per liter (0.7 ppm) of water.
This is estimated to be the optimal level for fluoride to provide its necessary benefits to dental health while not being so much that it’s harmful.
As stated earlier, almost all water from natural sources contains some fluoride.
However, naturally occurring fluoride in water is hardly ever at a sufficient level to protect your teeth against acid attacks that could cause tooth decay.
This is why most communities adopt water fluoridation.
But this is not always the case. In some regions like Colorado Springs, which was the town that played a big role in the discovery of fluoride’s effects on dental health, the level of fluoride in water is naturally high.
In places like this, natural fluoride levels in water may even be so high that it becomes detrimental to good health.
How To Know If You Have Fluoride In Your Water
Fluoride does not have a particular taste or smell. So if it is present in water, even in high quantities, it is almost impossible to tell by the look, taste, or smell of your water.
Most natural water sources contain fluoride, and communities are more likely to add fluoride to water than try to remove it.
Because of this, your tap water likely has at least a little fluoride, whether or not your community carries out water fluoridation.
If you use well water, you should also know how much fluoride is in your water.
There are various ways to check if your water contains fluoride. These methods will also give you an idea about how much fluoride is present in your water.
1. Fluoride Test Strip
Test strips are strips of paper or plastic that change color when dipped into a liquid if that liquid contains a particular substance, in this case, Fluoride.
Some test strips may also detect other substances in water such as lead, iron, bacteria, etc., while some test strips detect only fluoride.
For this test, fill a freshly washed and dried cup with tap water. Make sure the cup is thoroughly washed with soap and rinsed.
- Fill the cup about halfway with water, enough for the entire strip to be submerged.
- When using fluoride-only strips, you may need to add some acid to the water, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. If this is the case, add equal volumes of water and hydrochloric (muriatic acid) into a glass cup.
- Don’t use a plastic cup because of the risk of it getting corroded by the acid.
- Submerge the test strip briefly in the water. One or two seconds is usually enough.
- Remove the strip, gently shake off excess moisture, and leave it out for about 10 seconds to ensure the strip has changed color completely.
Match the color on the strip to the closest color on the chart to get an estimate of how much fluoride is in your water.
If you can, do this in a well-lit area.
For the test strips that require acid, hydrochloric acid is usually available for sale in hardware stores and pool stores.
For safety, use acid-resistant gloves, wear long-sleeved clothing, and put on a respirator mask to prevent any harm from the acid.
- It is affordable. Test strip kits can cost about $20-$30 on Amazon and contain numerous strips.
- Easy to use
- It is not so accurate when it comes to quantifying the fluoride that is present.
2. Color Test Kits
These test kits contain a liquid chemical substance (reagent) that changes color when it reacts with fluoride.
To use this kit, get a small container to put water in. Some kits may come with a bottle for this purpose.
If yours doesn’t, you can use a small pill bottle.
This bottle should be washed with soap and water, rinsed thoroughly, and dried.
In the clean dry bottle, add a small amount of water. Check for the required volume of water in the instruction manual because this may vary from kit to kit.
Add the reagent to the water. Usually, about 10-20 drops of the reagent are required depending on the instructions. The reagent is typically a reddish liquid in a bottle that comes in the kit.
After adding the reagent, shake the bottle until the color is evenly distributed.
Some tests may require you to add a powdered substance before adding the reagent.
Go through the manufacturer’s specific instructions when conducting the test.
Compare the new color of the mixture in the bottle to the color chart provided in the kit.
The color that has the closest match gives you an idea of how much fluoride is in the water.
- It is a cheap method
- More accurate than test strips
- Quick and easy to carry out
3. Digital Photometer
The digital photometer method follows the same process as the color test kit.
A specified quantity of the same reagent is added to a given amount of water and mixed thoroughly.
However, a device known as a digital photometer is used instead of a color chart comparison.
A digital photometer measures the intensity of the color formed by mixing the reagent with water to determine the amount of fluoride in the water.
A digital photometer is the most accurate method for testing your water’s fluoride levels at home.
- High accuracy
- Can be used to measure the level of other substances as well, if the right reagent is used for each substance.
- Relatively expensive
- Requires calibration ad standardization
- A bit technical
4. Certified Laboratory Testing
This is the method of choice for the most accurate information about the fluoride levels in your water.
With home tests, some accuracy is lost in exchange for speed and convenience.
Labs have more advanced equipment that will produce more accurate results.
We recommend the Tap Score Specialized Fluoride Water Test.
When you order a lab test kit, you’ll receive a package containing all the equipment and the instructions you need to collect water samples which you will then send to the laboratory.
The lab will analyze your water sample for fluoride and send the results back to you in a few days.
- Very accurate
- Relatively expensive compared to other testing methods.
- Results are not instant.
5. Annual Water Quality Report
The EPA mandates all community water systems to provide a water quality report annually.
This report contains detailed descriptions of the various levels of substances in the water they distribute, including fluoride.
You can contact your water provider to obtain a copy of the report. You can check your utility bill for the appropriate contact information.
The CDC also maintains an online map of the different areas that fluoridate their community water. From here, you can check if fluoride is in your water.
Why Fluoride In Water May Be A Problem And How To Remove It
Fluoride in water is usually fine as long as it is below the prescribed level of 0.7 milligrams per liter of water.
When fluoride is taken in excess, especially by children, it puts them at risk of a condition known as dental fluorosis.
Dental fluorosis causes the outer layer of the teeth (enamel) to become mottled and discolored.
It can also cause the gums to bleed or to become swollen and painful. The extent to which the disease affects the teeth varies.
Fluorosis could be mild, manifesting as barely-noticeable white spots or streaks on the surface of the teeth that do not affect normal dental function.
This is the most common type of fluorosis in the US.
Fluorosis could also be of moderate severity, causing the teeth to have brownish discoloration.
Rarely, fluorosis could also be severe, causing dark brown or even black discoloration of the teeth.
There could even be defects on the surface of the teeth, causing pits to form on the surface of the teeth.
Dental fluorosis is majorly an aesthetic condition. Its severity depends on the quantity of fluoride in water and the duration of drinking fluoridated water.
Dental fluorosis is more likely to occur in children younger than eight years old. This is because permanent teeth develop during this period, and fluorosis affects the teeth while forming in the gums.
While excess fluoride may not cause dental fluorosis in adults, it has harmful effects on people above the age of eight also. One of these effects is a condition known as skeletal fluorosis.
In skeletal fluorosis, fluoride accumulates in the bones over some years, causing damage to bones and joints.
Some symptoms of skeletal fluorosis include pain and stiffness in the joints. Rarely, skeletal fluorosis may even be crippling because the tendons and ligaments get hardened and stiff.
According to some research, taking excess fluoride may be linked to learning, cognition, and memory deficits.
Since the discovery of water fluoridation, experts have always been aware of the health dangers of excess fluoride.
In fact, in the city of Colorado Springs, symptoms of dental fluorosis were the first indicators of an unusual substance in water. Later, this substance turned out to be a high quantity of fluoride.
However adding fluoride to water, particularly in communities with low water fluoride levels, seemed like a good idea. And it was. The effects on public dental health were evident.
However, we now have several other sources of fluoride in dental products like toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, etc.
These dental products feature in our everyday lives, which means that adding fluoridated water may be overkill. This is why countries that do not fluoridate their water have also experienced remarkable drops in the rate of tooth decay.
Because the fluoride derived from other dental products may be sufficient to maintain good dental health, the fluoride in our water is often not needed.
How to Remove Fluoride From Your Water
If you’re worried that the fluoride in your water is too much or just unnecessary, there are easy ways you can remove fluoride from your drinking water.
1. Water Filter Pitcher
There are several great water filter pitchers out there which remove fluoride as well as other impurities from your drinking water.
We highly recommend the Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher.
It uses top-of-the-line point-of-use water filtration technology to remove more than 99.5% of the fluoride present in your water, as well as over 300 other impurities.
2. Water Dispensers
Some water dispensers contain filters to remove impurities from the water. Our dispenser of choice is the Epic Pure Dispenser.
It can remove up to 97.8% of fluoride from water and can also remove other water contaminants such as lead.
The filter in this dispenser can purify up to 150 gallons (568 liters) of water before it has to be replaced.
It also has a countdown feature that reminds you to change the filter after 90 days so you won’t forget.
3. Filter bottles
These are perfect for ensuring that the water you take with you on the go is fluoride-free.
We recommend the Clearly Filtered Insulated Stainless Steel Filtered water bottle.
It has a 20oz capacity and can remove up to 99.5% of fluoride from your drinking water.
It is good for a hot day because it keeps your water cold and has a no-sweat finish on its exterior stainless-steel surface that keeps it dry.
4. Reverse Osmosis System
A reverse osmosis (RO) system is a water purification system that passes water under pressure through a porous membrane to remove unwanted ions and particles from water.
Under sink reverse osmosis systems purify tap water and remove contaminants, including more than 98% fluoride, from your water.
Our top pick for under-sink RO systems is the Waterdrop 800GPD Tankless RO System.
It has a three-stage filtration system and a UV light to ensure maximum purity.
5. Under Sink Water Filters
The under-sink water filter we recommend for removing chloride from your drinking water is the ClearlyFiltered 3-Stage Under the Sink Water Filter System.
It removes up to 90.7% of fluoride from tap water using advanced filtration technology that also removes over 200 other water contaminants.
All these equipment can be ordered from Amazon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there fluoride in my well water?
Fluoride is found naturally in almost all water sources, including well water. Although the quantity is generally very low, excluding known areas of high fluoride concentrations, such as Colorado Springs.
The quantity of fluoride present in your well water depends on your location. Some areas have very high levels of fluoride in well water.
Can Fluoride affect plants?
Fluoride in water can harm your plants. Plants do not need fluoride to grow. On the contrary, it may even accumulate in plants over time and become toxic, inhibiting photosynthesis and other important processes.
The best water to use for watering plants is rainwater.
Can Fluoride Affect Pets?
Fluoride is safe for animals when in small quantities or concentrations. However, high concentrations of fluoride in your water, can lead to harmful effects on your pet’s health.
If you live in an area where the water naturally has high levels of fluoride like Colorado Springs, natural, unpurified water, e.g., well water, may not be good for pets, just like it isn’t for humans.