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Does exposure to fluoride cause ADHD?

By Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH

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Question: My 10-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with ADHD and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I just read that exposure to fluoride causes ADHD. Is that true?

Answer:

Researchers are looking into possible links between fluoride and ADHD . They don’t have clear answers yet, but it’s an important question to resolve.

Fluoride is a widely used product in today’s world. Known to help prevent cavities, it’s been added to the water in some countries, including the United States. It’s also in many products we use on a regular basis. Toothpastes, mouth rinses, and teas can have fluoride in them. Some processed foods are made with fluoridated water.

Given how good it is for dental health, fluoride is generally thought of as safe. But some scientists have had concerns that it might be linked to neurodevelopmental issues like ADHD.

A study in 2015 looked at data from two states that put fluoride in its drinking water. Researchers found that the areas with the most fluoride also had the highest number of kids with ADHD. But that doesn’t mean the fluoride necessarily caused ADHD. There may be other factors that weren’t studied.

More recent research looked at fluoride levels in mothers during pregnancy and ADHD symptoms in their child years later. The 2018 study from Mexico found a link. The higher the level of fluoride in a woman’s urine, the worse her child’s inattention was.

But that was only the case when inattention was measured by rating scales. (These are the questionnaires that parents and teachers fill out as part of an ADHD evaluation.) The results were different when researchers used computerized tests to measure attention. With that method, they found no link between fluoride exposure and inattention.

The results held up even after looking at other factors. These include the sex of the child, whether the birth was premature, and the education level of the mother.

This research is a start. But it isn’t enough to show that exposure to fluoride causes ADHD symptoms . We need more studies to better understand what the links may be.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that the benefits of fluoride are clear. Fluoride has been proven to reduce cavities and tooth decay. Nearly all health organizations support using it in public water supplies. That includes the American Academy of Pediatrics.

We don’t yet know if there’s an association between fluoride and ADHD. What we do know is that fluoride protects kids’ health.

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