Fluoride: Deficiency & Toxicity Symptoms

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  • 0:02 Fluoride
  • 1:14 Dental Caries
  • 2:26 Deficiency
  • 3:38 Toxicity
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Fluoride, obtained from toothpaste and fluoridated water, helps protect your teeth from dental caries. Learn how fluoride works and what happens if you do not get enough fluoride or ingest too much of this trace mineral.


When you smile at yourself in the mirror, you are greeted by 32 shiny, white teeth reflecting back at you. Your teeth are very hard, just like your bones. This hardness is due to minerals, which are naturally-occurring inorganic substances that you ingest from the foods you eat. Yet, did you know that your teeth are constantly under attack from forces trying to break down their hard surfaces?

This attack comes from bacteria that live on your teeth. These bacteria latch on to food debris that gets stuck in the crevices of your teeth and then convert that debris to acid that eats away at the hard surfaces. Fortunately, there is a trace mineral that fights tooth decay called fluoride.

You get fluoride from toothpaste. Fluoride is often added to public water systems, making fluoridated water a primary source as well. In addition, tea can be a rich source of fluoride, as the mineral tends to be concentrated in the tea leaves. In this lesson, we will take a look at how fluoride protects your teeth and bones from harm and what happens if you have too little or too much fluoride in your body.

Dental Caries

We mentioned that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay caused by acid-forming bacteria. We refer to this tooth decay as dental caries, or simply, cavities. When your teeth were first developing, fluoride-containing crystals helped form the tough outer covering of your teeth known as tooth enamel; the enamel is what you see when you smile at yourself in the mirror. Having sufficient fluoride during this developmental stage is important and makes your teeth more resistant to the effects of the cavity-forming acids; and, fluoride continues to protect your teeth throughout your life.

Fluoride found in your toothpaste reduces the acid production on your teeth, but you don't have to brush on fluoride to gain this benefit. Fluoride that you get from fluoridated water or food sources that contain fluoride makes its way into your body. This fluoride then becomes part of the saliva in your mouth, which gives you some all-day protection against cavities. Fluoride has a similar protective benefit for your bones, helping to protect your bone mass and keep your bones strong.


Fluoride is a trace mineral, which means it's only needed in a small amounts. An adult male needs only about four milligrams, which size-wise would be about the same as a few grains of sugar. An adult woman require less, needing only about three milligrams, and children require even less depending on how much they weigh. The recommended daily intake for children six months of age or older is 0.05 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This trace amount is not hard to obtain, particularly in areas where the water is fluoridated, as fluoridated water provides about one milligram per liter. However, a reduced intake could lead to a fluoride deficiency and result in an increased risk of dental caries.

A deficiency can sometimes be seen in people who drink from a public water source that does not contain fluoride. People who only drink bottled water may also need to obtain fluoride from other sources since bottled water does not typically contain it. Other sources include foods cooked in fluoridated water.

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