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Public Health (23-06-2011)

Critical review: Health and environmental effects of fluoride

The Commission's independent Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) has published its critical review of the hazard profile, health effects, and human exposure to fluoride and fluoridating agents in drinking water. The critical review follows on from opinions from the European Food safety Authority (EFSA) and the Scientific Committee on Consumer Protection (SCCP) and reviews the newest information in the area.

Fluoride is not considered to be essential for human growth and development but it is thought to help prevent dental caries (tooth decay). Public concerns about water fluoridation which may lead to excessive intake of fluoride and may be associated with a number of negative health effects prompted the Commission to seek the advice of its Scientific Committee on Health and Environment Risks (SCHER).

The critical review, published yesterday, covers all possible sources of exposure to fluoride and includes a range of possible exposure scenarios (e.g. sources and age groups). It also evaluates the effectiveness of fluoride in preventing tooth decay and identifies exposure scenarios of particular concern.

Some conclusions from the critical review:

  • Water fluoridation poses a risk for early stages of dental fluorosis in children in EU countries, but a threshold cannot be detected.
  • Water fluoridation as well as topical fluoride, such as toothpaste and gel, appears to prevent caries, primarily on permanent teeth. But there is no obvious advantage of water fluoridation compared with topical prevention.
  • The effect of continued systemic exposure of fluoride from whatever source is questionable once the permanent teeth have erupted.
  • There is no evidence from animal studies to support the link between fluoride in drinking water and cancer.
  • From human studies, we cannot conclude that fluoride in drinking water at the level permitted in the EU, impairs children's neurodevelopment.
  • Nor is there new evidence that it influences male and female reproductive capacity.
The full document can be found here

More information on SCHER and the European Commission's other independent Scientific Committees can be found here