Fluoride is one of the most common impurities in water as well as one of the most controversial. The mineral fluoride is actually a form of the natural element fluorine that is present in virtually all groundwater. However, municipalities have been adding fluoride to water supplies for over 50 years. So how to test for fluoride in water to know if it’s safe?
Despite its natural origins and potential benefits for oral health, elevated fluoride consumption has been shown to be hazardous to health and, in high concentrations, can pose severe risks.
In this article, I’ll cover the different methods for fluoride testing to see what level of fluoride concentration is present in your drinking water.
- The best method to test for fluoride in water is to use a certified laboratory test kit that detects the exact concentration.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the maximum contaminant level for fluoride at 4.0 mg/L in water.
- Effects of elevated fluoride exposure include dental fluorosis, lower IQ in children, and osteoporosis.
How Does Fluoride Get Into Water?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element contained in soil and bedrock from which it is released into the soil, water, and air. Groundwater, in particular, is prone to picking up some amount of fluoride as water seeps through the earth. This means that both well aquifers and city reservoirs are likely to contain some amount of fluoride.
However, in most cases, this amount is below the amount that can offer significant benefits to dental health and far below a dangerous level. As a result, many municipal water supplies have been adding fluoride to public water since 1945. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 73% of U.S. residents are served by a community water system with fluoridated water.
There are three primary types of fluoride additives used in municipal water supply:
- Fluorosilicic Acid: This is a water-based additive that is the most common fluoridation solution used in water systems.
- Sodium Fluoride: This is a dry-salt option that is dissolved into a solution before being added to the water supply.
Sodium Fluorosilicate: This is another dry-salt option that is dissolved into a solution before being added to the water supply.
All fluoride additives used by water treatment plants must meet stringent quality standards set forth in NSF/ANSI Standard 60.
What Is The Acceptable Level of Fluoride in Drinking Water?
Fluoride in drinking water has been shown to help prevent tooth decay, but it is possible to have too much. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a maximum enforceable drinking water standard of 4 mg/L that utilities are required to adhere to. The EPA also has a secondary standard of 2 mg/L which is unenforceable, but water providers are required to notify customers if fluoride levels exceed this benchmark.
The US Department Of Health And Human Services (HHS) also has a recommended optimal fluoride concentration of 0.7 mg/L in drinking water to prevent tooth decay while reducing the cases of dental fluorosis in adolescents.
The difference between the EPA and HHS is that the EPA is the maximum level to protect against too much fluoride consumption, while the HHS is the optimal level.
What Are The Symptoms of Fluoride In Water?
Fluoridated water supplies, which generally range from 0.7 – 1.2 mg/L, are considered safe. Studies indicate that when cities started adding fluoride, it effectively reduced the number of cavities.
However, ingesting excessive fluoride of 10 mg/L or more can lead to the following health consequences:
- Dental fluorosis
- Skeletal fluorosis
- Muscular damage
In extreme circumstances, elevated fluoride levels can damage arteries, liver, kidneys, and neuron systems. At more moderate levels of 2 mg/L, teeth can become mottled, discolored, or both.
Furthermore, pregnant women and children need to take extra precautions to avoid ingesting fluoride at even trace levels as it can lead to reduced IQ.
How Do I Know If I Have Fluoride in My Water?
The easiest way to know if fluoride is in your drinking water is to review the annual water quality report for your area. This annual report will show whether fluoride was detected in your water supply and at what concentration. You can access them at the EPA database along with other valuable information about your public water system.
If you live in one of the areas that participate in the My Water’s Fluoride program, you can check your local water utility’s fluoridation status online. Aside from that, you can also call your water system to ask them for details. Their contact information will be located on your utility bill or on their website.
However, if you have a private well, you will need to test your water to know fluoride levels. Since fluoride has no taste or smell, it cannot otherwise be detected.
How To Test for Fluoride in Drinking Water
You have two choices when it comes to fluoride test kits for your drinking water. The best option is to use an official lab test kit, alternatively, you can use DIY test strips. Let me discuss my experience using both options.
Having your water tested by a certified laboratory is the most accurate method. The laboratory will be able to tell you the exact fluoride levels after testing it.
With a fluoride test kit, you simply take a water sample from your home and mail the kit back to the lab. After the sample is analyzed, you will get a report back indicating the fluoride concentration detected.
The nice thing about using a lab test for fluoride is test kit also examines dozens of other contaminants. Some contaminants that are also tested include lead, chlorine, VOCs, bacteria, and more. This is a convenient method to ensure your drinking water is safe.
My suggestion to measure fluoride in water is to use the Freshnss laboratory testing kit. These test kits not only tell you how much fluoride is in your water but then provide tailored treatment solutions based on your data.
Home Water Testing Strips
Another option for testing water is to use fluoride testing strips. Using a test strip can give you an indication of the fluoride levels in your water.
As the name suggests, these are test strips that you can dip in a sample of your water. Then, the strip will turn a color determined by the amount of fluoride in the water. You can then compare the color on the test strip to a provided chart to see the fluoride concentration in your water.
The advantage of this method is it’s fast and only costs about $20 for a pack of testing strips. Unfortunately, the tests are not a very accurate way to measure fluoride. They can only let you see if your water has fluoride ions, but they won’t let you know specifically how much.
What To Do If Your Water Tests Positive For High Levels Of Fluoride
If your tap water test results show high fluoride levels, there are effective treatment options to reduce exposure. The common carbon water filter systems that are used in most homes do not remove fluoride
very well. Boiling water also does not remove fluoride from water.
The good news is that there are several options for home water filters that remove fluoride on the market today. Here is a breakdown of the best filters for fluoride removal:
Water Pitcher Filters
Some water filter pitchers are capable of removing fluoride from drinking water. However, not all pitchers are able to treat fluoride depending on the size and type of filter. My recommendation is the Clearly Filtered, which I personally lab tested and found reduced the fluoride level by 100%. You can see all of the fluoride testing results for water pitchers in our comprehensive guide.
Reverse osmosis forces water through a semipermeable membrane with pores that are only .0001 microns in size. This process removes up to 99% of the fluoride levels in water while allowing the pure H2O molecules to pass through.
Using a reverse osmosis system will remove a broad spectrum of other contaminants from your water while supplying purified water on demand.
Using a water distiller with activated carbon post-filter creates some of the purest water possible. A distiller works by heating the water until it turns to vapor and allowing it to condense back to purified water. A countertop distiller is compact but takes some time and energy to purify the water.
Whole House Filtration System
A whole house filtration system is capable of removing up to 99.6% of fluoride from the water supply. This is an ideal solution if you want to remove fluoride and other contaminants from every drop of water entering your home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does bottled water have fluoride?
Yes, some bottled water can contain fluoride because fluoride is a naturally occurring element. If the bottled water is ionized, distilled, or purified, it should not contain any fluoride. The FDA regulates bottled water and limits fluoride in bottled water to 0.8 – 2.4 mg/L.
What is the acceptable fluoride level in drinking water?
The EPA’s maximum contaminant level of fluoride is currently 4 ppm, which is the enforceable amount that water utility systems must abide by.
What are the symptoms of fluoride in water?
Low levels of fluoride can lead to tooth discoloration, while moderate levels of fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis, especially in developing children. Persistently high exposure to fluoride can cause damage to bones, joints, and organ function.
Is fluoride safe to drink?
Low levels of fluoride are safe to consume, however, it is generally best used to treat tooth decay with topical applications like toothpaste.
Will I get tooth decay if I remove fluoride from my drinking water?
No, your tooth enamel will not be affected by removing fluoride from your drinking water as long as you continue to use fluoride toothpaste.