Back to Whatcom County home page Whatcom County | Departments | Contacts |  Help |  Search
 Health Departmentheader image
  Health Home  | Topics  | Programs  | Information

   
Drinking Water

Environmental Health Home

Drinking Water Home

 

Contact Us

Whatcom County Health Department
Drinking Water Program, Environmental Health Division
Phone: (360) 676-6724
E-mail: Environmental Health

 

 
Water Quality

Fact Sheet on Fluoride in
Private Drinking Water Wells

What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a common element found in minerals, rock and soil. It naturally occurs in the earth’s soil.

How does fluoride get into drinking water?
As groundwater passes through minerals, rocks and soil it picks up fluoride and becomes dissolved in the groundwater.

What is the best level of fluoride in drinking water?
To protect teeth from decay, the best level of fluoride in drinking water is between 0.7 mg/L to 1.2 mg/L (“mg/L” is a measurement used to determine how many milligrams are in each liter of water). This range is based on the temperature of an area. In areas where it is hot, people tend to drink more water and, therefore, less fluoride is added to the water. In areas where it is cooler, people tend to drink less water and therefore more fluoride is added to the water.

There are different recommended levels for fluoride all over the United States. In our Northwest region, the US Public Health Service recommends a fluoride level of 1.1 mg/L.

Stop the use of fluoride supplements (usually in the form of drops or tablets) if you have fluoride in your drinking water. Then talk to your dentist about the proper levels of fluoride for your family.

In what ways does fluoride protect teeth?
Your body uses fluoride to help strengthen the surfaces of the teeth and the whole tooth.

Fluoride acts on teeth in two ways. When you use fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash, fluoride is washed over your teeth protecting the teeth from decay. When you ingest fluoride through water, your body incorporates the fluoride into developing teeth making them stronger and protecting them from decay.

The right amount of fluoride is needed to protect teeth. Too much fluoride can be harmful to teeth and bones and too little fluoride will not protect teeth.

How do you find out if you have fluoride in your drinking water?
If you have your own well, you can have your drinking water tested at a state certified laboratory. See the attached list for laboratories in Whatcom County that can test your drinking water for fluoride.

What is a dangerous level of fluoride?
A fluoride level above 4.0 mg/L is not safe to drink. With long-term use, fluoride levels above 4.0 mg/L can cause skeletal fluorosis which is a serious bone disorder.

A fluoride level above 2.0 mg/L can cause dental fluorosis in children. Dental fluorosis causes the staining and pitting of teeth. This is a cosmetic problem and not a health risk.

What if there is too much fluoride in your drinking water?
There are treatment systems available that remove fluoride from your drinking water. The most common types of treatment systems that remove fluoride are reverse osmosis and distillation. To contact people who sell treatment systems look in the telephone book under “water treatment” or “water purify”. You need to test your water after installing the treatment system to make sure it is working properly.

What if there isn’t enough fluoride in your drinking water?
A fluoride level below 0.7 mg/L does not protect teeth against decay. Your child’s physician or dentist can prescribe fluoride drops or tablets to help prevent tooth decay. The amount of fluoride prescribed depends on the fluoride level in the water.


Quick Reference for Fluoride Levels in Drinking Water

If your fluoride level is:

Less than 0.7 mg/L

  • This level of fluoride is low and does not protect teeth from decay.
  • Action: Talk to your dentist about fluoride supplements for children.

Between 0.7 mg/L to 1.2 mg/L

  • This level of fluoride protects teeth from decay.
  • The best level of fluoride for our Northwest region is 1.1 mg/L.
  • Action: No fluoride supplements should be taken if you have fluoride in your water. Stop the use of fluoride supplements until you talk to your dentist about the proper levels of fluoride supplements for your family.

Between 1.2 and 4.0 mg/L

  • This level of fluoride may cause dental fluorosis (brown staining and pitting of teeth) in children with long term use.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers this condition to be a cosmetic problem and not a health risk.
  • Action: Stop the use of fluoride supplements. You need to test your well to see what the level of fluoride is in your drinking water. See information on this sheet under “How do you find out if you have fluoride in your drinking water”.

Greater than 4.0 mg/L

  • This level of fluoride is a dangerous level for children and adults to drink.
  • Children and adults are at risk for skeletal fluorosis (a serious bone disorder) with long-term use.
  • Action: You will need to find another drinking water source or install a treatment system to remove fluoride from your drinking water. See information on this sheet under “What if there is too much fluoride in your drinking water?”

If you have additional questions please call our office at 360-676-6724 or contact your dentist.

 

Back to Top