Prenatal Fluoride Exposure Linked to Increased Risk of Child Neurobehavioral Issues

A new study led by a University of Florida researcher has found that higher fluoride levels in pregnant women are associated with increased odds of their children exhibiting neurobehavioral problems at age 3. The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, suggest that fluoride may negatively affect fetal brain development and raise concerns about the mineral’s potential impacts on human health.

The study analyzed data from 229 mother-child pairs living in a U.S. community with typical fluoride exposure levels for pregnant women in fluoridated regions in North America. It is believed to be the first U.S.-based study to examine associations between prenatal fluoride exposure and parent-reported child neurobehavioral issues, which include symptoms of anxiety, difficulty regulating emotions, and other complaints such as stomachaches and headaches.

Fluoride Exposure Levels Typical for Fluoridated Communities

Fluoride, a mineral added to community water supplies since the 1940s to reduce dental cavities, has been the subject of recent debate and scientific scrutiny regarding its potential positive and negative impacts on human health. Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population receives fluoridated tap water.

The study’s lead investigator, Ashley Malin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and UF College of Medicine, noted that the fluoride levels found in the study participants’ samples are typical for people living in communities with fluoridated water. However, more research is needed to determine if the findings are generalizable to other U.S. populations or nationally representative.

Implications for Policymakers and Future Research

The study team hopes their findings will prompt policymakers to create specific recommendations for fluoride consumption during pregnancy. “I think this is important evidence, given that it’s the first U.S.-based study and findings are quite consistent with the other studies published in North America with comparable fluoride exposure levels,” Malin said.

The findings, taken together with recent studies conducted in Canada and Mexico on the effects of fluoride on young children’s IQ, suggest that fluoride may negatively affect fetal brain development. “There is no known benefit of fluoride consumption to the developing fetus,” Malin noted, “but we do know that there is possibly a risk to their developing brain.”

The study’s senior author, Tracy Bastain, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, leads the Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) study, which provided the data for the current fluoride research. The MADRES study follows a group of predominantly Hispanic women with low-income and their children living in Los Angeles County from pregnancy through childhood.

Malin emphasizes the need for further research, stating, “Conducting a nationwide U.S. study on this topic would be important, but I think the findings of the current study and recent studies from Canada and Mexico suggest that there is a real concern here.”

Substack subscription form sign up
The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.