In the summer, many families take advantage of the opportunity to travel the country and see the great sights our nation has to offer. And for about 4 million Americans a year, one of those sights is Yellowstone, America’s first National Park.
Yellowstone is known for many things: the geysers, the wildlife, and the beautiful mountains. But there’s a lesser-known attraction for the park: fluoride. Yellowstone is a running lesson on the potential dangers of fluoride.
Fluoride Leads Elk to Die Early
In the early 2000s, researchers from Montana State University-Bozeman made a striking discovery: elk in a non-migratory herd living in the park died significantly younger than elk in other places in the park. A lot younger. While most elk in and around Yellowstone lived to be about 20 years old, those in the non-migratory herd only lived to be about 15.
The reason? Fluoride. The elk that stayed in one place constantly drank water that was high in fluoride. This fluoride interferes with the formation of the elk’s teeth, making them weaker. This makes their teeth more susceptible to wear.
And, to make matters worse, the plants in the area grow from volcanic soil that’s very high in silica.dust. This gets on the plants and makes them more damaging to the teeth. Because of this, the teeth of elk in this herd get worn down more quickly. The elk can’t eat efficiently, and they become weak, easy prey for wolves.
Does This Mean You Should Avoid Fluoride?
Looking at the effects of fluoride might make anti-fluoridation people feel validated in their arguments: fluoride is poison and should be avoided. But this can’t really be supported by the evidence at Yellowstone.
Although the evidence does show that high levels of fluoride can be toxic, it doesn’t show that all fluoride is toxic. Instead, it simply reminds us that when it comes to any nutrient the dose makes the poison. The fluoride levels the elk are consuming in Yellowstone are very, very high. Fluoride is a common mineral, and it’s easily soluble in hot, warm water. And that’s exactly what the volcanic springs in the park are. They’re hot (sometimes over 400° F before they reach the surface) and acidic, so the fluoride levels are often very high.
Samples of rivers in and around the park range from 1.5 to 6.2 ppm (parts per million). In geysers and hot springs the levels could be as high as 30 ppm. For reference, the FDA recommends that water fluoridation shouldn’t exceed 0.7 ppm So the elk are likely drinking water that could be 9 times as great as that recommended for human consumption, or 20 or 40!
Just because consuming these high levels of fluoride harms teeth, it doesn’t mean that small levels of fluoride are actually dangerous at all. Most nutrients and elements we consume on a daily basis can be toxic if consumed in too large quantities. For example, vitamin A has well-known toxicity. If you consume 4000 IU units per kilogram daily (about 63 times the recommended daily dose), you will die in a matter of months. And imagine what consuming 9 times the recommended number of calories each day would do to your weight, your health, and your life.
Just like everything else, fluoride can be poisonous if consumed in too high quantities. But at safe levels, it’s a vital protectant for your teeth. Don’t avoid fluoride, but do avoid over-consumption. Don’t take fluoride supplements if your water is fluoridated, as it is here in Scripps Ranch. Don’t swallow toothpaste or mouthwash containing fluoride.