Does Fluoride in Drinking Water Raise ADHD Risk in Kids?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, it’s natural to wonder what could have caused it. Genes? Environmental toxins? A problem during birth or delivery? While any one of these could be the culprit, researchers are concerned that fluoride in drinking water might also be a contributing factor.

It might be hard to think that something proven to protect kids’ teeth could raise their ADHD risk, but several studies suggest a link between the two. We dug into the research and broke down the science. Before getting into the nitty-gritty details, it’s crucial to understand ADHD itself—what it is, what it looks like behaviorally, and what causes it. So, let’s start there.

What is ADHD?

WebMD defines ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, as “a brain disorder that affects how you pay attention, sit still, and control your behavior. It happens in children and teens and can continue into adulthood.”

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood, affecting an estimated 9.4% of children aged 2 to 17 in the United States. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the condition, nor can it be prevented. However, spotting it early and having a good treatment and education plan can help manage the symptoms, WebMD explains.

What are the Signs of ADHD in Children?

According to the Mayo Clinic, kids with ADHD tend to exhibit ongoing patterns of various symptoms, including:

  • Inattention:
    • Short attention span.
    • Difficulty listening to others.
    • Easily distracted.
  • Impulsivity:
    • Often interrupts others.
    • Difficulty waiting for turns.
    • Makes rash decisions or actions.
  • Hyperactivity:
    • Constant motion, running or climbing inappropriately.
    • Fidgeting or squirming.
    • Excessive talking.

These conditions may impact other areas of life, including academic performance, social interactions, and daily functioning.

What Causes ADHD in Children?

The exact causes of ADHD in children aren’t yet fully understood, but a study suggests that if your kid has the condition, it’s likely that at least one parent has it as well.

In the study, parents of 79 ADHD-diagnosed children were screened for the condition, and nearly half of them were found to have suffered from ADHD—41.3% of mothers and 51% of fathers, to be exact.

Beyond genetics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says other factors may also increase the risk of ADHD in children, such as:

  • Brain injury
  • Exposure to environmental risks (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy.
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight

In recent years, there has been increasing investigation into various other potential contributing factors and exposures that may influence ADHD risk. One area under scrutiny is exposure to fluoride in drinking water.

What is Fluoride, And Why Is It Added to Local Water Supplies?

Fluoride is a mineral naturally found in soil, rock, air, and water. Nicknamed “Nature’s Cavity Fighter,” it’s said to help prevent and reverse tooth decay, strengthen teeth, and support bone health—which explains why it’s an ingredient in almost all toothpaste, mouthwash, and other oral care products. Many U.S. drinking water systems intentionally add fluoride to the public water supply for the same reasons.

The practice of water fluoridation—or adding concentrations of fluoride to water—in the U.S. started in 1945 after scientists found that people living in areas with higher amounts of fluoride in their water had fewer cavities.

In 1962, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) began recommending that public water supplies contain fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Today, an estimated 66.3% of people in U.S. public water systems receive fluoridated drinking water (below the recommended dosage guidelines) to promote good oral health. However, questions are being raised about whether kids exposed to fluoride in drinking water are at a higher risk of ADHD.

Does Fluoride Exposure Increase ADHD Risk in Kids?

In 1992, researchers kickstarted a study on fluoride and neurodevelopment. The investigation found that since that year, the number of Americans drinking fluoridated water increased from about half the population to over 70%. Over that same period, only around 7 out of every 100 children were diagnosed with ADHD. But fast-forward to the coinciding year, over 11% of children had an ADHD diagnosis.

When trends like these happen in parallel, they naturally raise vital questions. Could the two be connected in some way? Could increasing exposure to fluoride in drinking water play a role in the increased ADHD diagnoses in children? Let’s see what the research says.

Scientific Research on Fluoride Exposure and ADHD in Children

A series of studies have been conducted to determine the impact of fluoride exposure on children’s ADHD risk. Some suggest a positive association, while others have found no significant link.

A 2015 study examined data from two individual states with fluoridated drinking water. Researchers found that the areas with the most fluoride in their water supply also had the highest number of kids with ADHD.

Three years later, researchers at the University of Toronto and York University conducted a study to examine fluoride levels during pregnancy and childhood development. They analyzed urine samples from pregnant moms and then tracked those same women’s kids from ages 6 to 12. The researchers wanted to see if higher fluoride levels in the mothers’ urine—which would reflect greater exposure—were linked to inattention and hyperactivity in their children later on.

To filter out other factors that could impact brain development, the researchers carefully accounted for things like premature birth, birth weight, the mother’s education and economic status, exposure to lead, and whether the moms smoked. They could then assign scores specifically related to ADHD-type symptoms in the children based on their fluoride exposure levels earlier in life.

The results were eye-opening. Higher fluoride during pregnancy corresponded to more frequent fidgety, distracted, and cognitively challenged behaviors as the kids grew older. It was one of the first major studies to find a direct connection between them.

Overall, as many as 68 human studies reported an association between exposure to elevated fluoride levels in drinking water and lowered IQ in children. Multiple studies found that children populations in areas with high fluoride levels in the local water supply had IQ scores almost seven points lower than those from areas with low fluoride concentrations.

Limitations and Criticisms of These Scientific Studies

The findings from these studies have led many people to advocate against fluoride in drinking water, but not everyone agrees on its supposed link to ADHD in kids. Those on the other side of the fence were eager to point out flaws and limitations in the research.

One common criticism was how challenging it is to measure fluoride exposure accurately. Opposers say studies often rely on estimates of fluoride levels in drinking water or urine, which may not accurately reflect one’s exposure to the mineral. They also said some studies may not have adequately accounted for other factors that could have influenced the development of ADHD in kids—genetics, prenatal exposures, parents’ socioeconomic status, etc. Therefore, they believe it’s difficult to say for sure that fluoride alone causes ADHD in children.

So, Should You Be Concerned About Fluoride Increasing Your Child’s ADHD Risk?

Although fluoride in drinking water isn’t found to be a direct cause of ADHD in children, you might still want to reduce their exposure to it given the potential health risks from excess intake—dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, arthritis, bone damage, osteoporosis, muscular damage, fatigue, and joint-related problems, to name a few.

Furthermore, ingesting too much fluoride can indirectly lead to certain conditions that could ultimately affect a child’s cognitive ability. For instance, fluoride has been proven to disrupt thyroid function, which is important for proper brain development. It’s also said that fluoride can increase the uptake and toxicity of lead—a metal also linked to ADHD.

How Much Fluoride in Drinking Water is Safe?

While adding fluoride to drinking water is not mandatory across the United States, there are government agencies that closely monitor and regulate fluoride levels to help curb overexposure to the mineral.

Today’s standards stem from recommendations made by the PHS in 1962. At that time, they advised that public water supplies contain between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter. This range was considered the sweet spot—enough to help prevent tooth decay but not so much as to risk dental fluorosis, a condition known for staining or mottling tooth enamel.

However, in 2015, that initial guidance was updated to a flat 0.7 mg/L level across the board. This adjustment accounted for fluoride’s increased presence in other products besides water, trends showing more cases of enamel changes, evolving scientific evidence on fluoride’s effectiveness in cavity prevention, and insights into kids’ fluid intake levels.

In addition to the public health recommendations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces its own fluoride limits for drinking water. They set a hard maximum allowable level of 4.0 mg/L. Levels chronically exceeding this can contribute to various health issues. The EPA also has a secondary 2.0 mg/L threshold to safeguard children under nine from the risk of fluorosis. While not a hard rule, utilities must notify customers if fluoride creeps above this level.

How Do I Reduce the Amount of Fluoride in My Drinking Water?

The natural levels of fluoride in water can sometimes exceed recommended safety thresholds in certain areas. However, although public water systems are required to keep fluoride below specific limits, private wells are often unmonitored and unregulated.

Determine if your water contains fluoride.

The first step is finding out if your water contains fluoride and how much is present. For those on municipal supplies, contact your local water provider for the latest test results and concentration details. They are required to regularly monitor and share this data—usually via an annual water quality report. Be sure to review this document closely.

If your water comes from a private well, consider enlisting a local certified laboratory to evaluate your water quality. Although less accurate but more affordable, you can also purchase DIY home testing kits to determine fluoride levels in your water supply.

Install a water filter that removes fluoride.

If testing reveals your water supply contains higher-than-ideal levels of fluoride, don’t panic—we have a solution. While bottled water may seem tempting, a much better approach is installing a quality water filtration system. These systems are engineered to strip away unwanted elements like fluoride. That way, you can enjoy crisp, refreshing, contaminant-free water while minimizing the health risks.

Reverse osmosis, or RO, is one of the most effective technologies for removing fluoride from water. RO systems use a semi-permeable membrane to screen out tiny particles. Many can eliminate over 98% of fluoride.

Leading brands like Springwell offer compact undercounter RO water systems that filter water from under the kitchen or bathroom sink. These systems can produce over 75 gallons of purified water daily to meet your household needs.

While a quality filtration solution requires an initial investment, we provide perks like lifetime warranties, six-month satisfaction guarantees, fast, free shipping, and financing plans to make owning yours a breeze.

If you need help finding the best fluoride removal filter or want to learn more about our offerings, call Springwell today at 800-589-5592 or message us via our support page or the chat feature on our website.

Final Thoughts

The science on whether fluoride impacts childhood behavior is far from conclusive. While specific studies have raised concerns, the evidence isn’t strong enough to say fluoride exposure is a direct cause of ADHD in kids.

Still, we can’t dismiss the research showing that higher fluoride levels may negatively affect brain health and cognition during crucial early development stages. Even if fluoride doesn’t trigger ADHD itself, too much could impair focus, self-control, and cognitive abilities in more subtle ways as children grow.

If you are concerned about your water containing fluoride, have the water tested professionally as soon as possible. Depending on the results, consider installing a proven filtration system to remove fluoride (and other unwanted elements) from your water supply.