If you have travelled a lot in rural India, you would have spotted people with stained teeth. It is possible because some of the rural people might have the habit of smoking and consuming tobacco.

However, you might have even seen children with stained teeth. At the same time, you would not have missed seeing adult people having bent shoulders and complaining of excessive pain. These problems are the result of a disease known as fluorosis.

What is fluorosis?

Fluorosis occurs primarily due to the consumption of large quantities of fluoride from drinking water. How much of fluorine is harmful?

The WHO standards stipulate that consumption of more than 1.5 mg/l of fluorine in any form is detrimental to health.

Does it surprise you that fluorides cause harm to the teeth of children while not affecting that of adults? Similarly, you find the twisting of bones and people getting crippled at an early age. It is all due to fluorosis.

Different types of fluorosis

You have two types of fluorosis, dental fluorosis, and skeletal fluorosis. Dental fluorosis occurs because of extensive exposure to high concentration of fluorine at the time if tooth development.

It leads to the formation of enamel with high porosity and low mineral content. Usually, children in the age group of 1 to 4 years are the most vulnerable. You will not witness this problem in children after eight years of age because of the establishment of permanent teeth.

Skeletal fluorosis can occur due to the disturbance of calcium metabolism at the time of the formation of bones. It can result in deformities leading to even crippling. Skeletal fluorosis can aggravate rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.

Harmful effects of fluoride

Why do you use toothpaste containing fluoride if fluoride is so bad for health?

Understand that the fluoride toothpaste does not contain large quantities of fluoride to cause either dental or skeletal fluorosis.

The WHO has stipulated that consumption of more than 1.5 mg/litre of fluoride can cause fluorosis. Therefore, a daily intake of 10 to 20 mg/day for adults and 3 to 8 mg/day for children is harmful.

The situation is not very encouraging in rural India as more than 100 districts in over 20 states, and more than 60 million people consume drinking water having a fluoride content of more than 1 mg/l. It entails that the daily consumption of fluorine amounts to more than 10 mg/day. It is harmful to both children and adults alike.

Excess fluoride is bad for our bodies because it affects various functions of the body simultaneously. Fluorosis increases the requirement of calcium in the body. Hence, expecting mothers, lactating women, children, and women above the age of 40 are prone to suffer from calcium related diseases.

Fluorosis reduces the capacity of the body to absorb iron. Deficiency of iron causes anaemia thereby posing a danger to all of us. It affects pregnant women more than the others thus resulting in the birth of underweight children.

Places where fluorosis is prevalent

Rural India is the most affected places of all. Villages in Balasore district of Orissa were recently in the news because of many people suffering from skeletal fluorosis.

Other than Orissa, fluorosis is prevalent in the rural areas of states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. States like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh are moderately affected states whereas Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar are the mildly affected areas.

How do you deal with the problem?

The detection of the disease is the first step towards resolving the issue. Testing the water for the proportion of fluorine and observing the children’s teeth for stains is the best way for detecting the presence of fluorosis.

You need not to invest too much in procuring these simple detection kits. However, there are complex instruments like the Ion electrode that measure the fluoride levels accurately. There are ways to detect the presence of fluoride in urine and blood as well.

Another way to solve the problem is to find safer sources of water. You can always find nearby sources of water that are free from fluoride. The idea is that the community should come together and bring about public awareness so that people learn to use water judiciously and improve the quality of life.

A good nutritious diet comprising of calcium-rich green vegetables, milk, eggs, and Vitamin C can help alleviate the problems of fluorosis. Similarly, one should also include antioxidants such as lemon, gooseberries, spinach, and so on in the diet. These foods can negate the presence of excess fluoride in the body.

Water purification methods like Activated Alumina and Reverse Osmosis can also remove fluoride from the source water thereby making it safe for drinking. Store rainwater directly from rooftops as they do not contain fluorine as opposed to groundwater.

Simple tips to deal with fluorosis

  • Adding a few leaves of the Holy Basil plant (locally known as Tulsi) can remove fluoride from water. Tulsi is a natural anti-oxidant.
  • Switch over to regular stainless steel pans for making food instead of using the Teflon-coated ones.
  • Water filtering processes like Reverse Osmosis and Activated Alumina can help in removing fluorosis.
  • Using fluoride-based toothpaste is good for the dental health but ensure that your child does not swallow the toothpaste as it can cause health issues.
  • Avoiding processed foods is also a good way to reduce fluoride consumption.
  • Organically grown fruits are better than the ones treated with chemical fertilisers.
  • Avoid using fluorinated salts.
  • Carbon filters and water softeners do not remove fluoride. Similarly, boiling the water does not remove it as well.
  • Increase the iodine content in your body to neutralise excess fluorine.
  • Drinking tamarind tea is an excellent way to detoxify your body from fluorine
  • Fulvic acid helps in neutralising fluoride inside the body.

Fluorosis can assume dangerous proportions over a period. Early detection and preventing the accumulation of fluorides in the body is the best way to counteract the problem of fluorosis.

Creating public awareness is the right way to deal with the issue. The more the rural people know about the disease and its effects, the better equipped they will be to deal with it.

Source: Indianwaterportal, Wellandgood, NDTV