Have there been any studies that have investigated the effects of ingesting fluoridated drinking (esp. in high concentrations) on the intelligence (or IQ) of humans or animals?

If so, have any such studies indicated that drinking fluoridated water may have a negative impact on intelligence (or IQ)?

  • Why would a study of high fluoride concentrations in water be relevant to people who drink the low concentration of fluoride in tap water? Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 3:15
  • @IronPillow, I am asking about people who drink high concentrations of flouride not low concentrations in tap water. I'd imagine my question won't be relevent to the people you are referring, but why would that matter???
    – Kenshin
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 7:51
  • Now I am confused. Are you asking about tap water fluoride, or are you asking about situations of ingesting water with a higher concentration of fluoride? (What would that be?) Or are you referring to the range of fluoride concentration in tap water and the effects of concentrations that like at the higher end of the spectrum? Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 16:41
  • 1
    @IronPillow, Think of it as this: If i were the government, how much fluoride can I add to the water before it will start to negatively affect IQ. Alternatively think of it as in some countries the dam water is contaminated by natural flouride from neighbouring rocks. At what concentrations (if any) will it start to negatively affect IQ.
    – Kenshin
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 8:23
  • 1
    This is a much clearer question. However, I seriously doubt it can be answered with any kind of scientific rigor. It does not lend itself to randomization (one would have to randomize entire water districts) and it would require a decade of follow-up, and one would have to account for people moving into and out of a water district. Tough. Observational studies would have zillions of contaminating correlates. As far as I know, IQ is not defined in animals, so animal studies would not work, although surrogate measures of intelligence could perhaps be employed. Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 19:16

3 Answers 3


There are over 300 studies have found that fluoride is a neurotoxin (a chemical that can damage the brain).

According to EPA scientists (United States Environmental Protection Agency), there is substantial evidence that fluoride is neurotoxin2009. They based their conclusion on studies showing that fluoride exposure during pregnancy can damage the brain which was consistent with three other studies from China which found that the brain of the human fetus can be significantly damaged by the mother’s high fluoride intake (safe dose for preventing this effect is not yet known).

EPA.gov - Chemicals with substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity

Further more, the National Research Council (NRC) expressed concern about fluoride’s possible contribution to dementia and "it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain and the body by direct and indirect means"2006.

It is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain. (National Research Council, 2006)

A more recent “meta-analysis” of 27 cross-sectional studies performed by Harvard researchers, did a systematic review of children exposed to fluoride in drinking water (mainly from China), which suggested that children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas (an average IQ decrement of about seven points in children exposed to higher fluoride concentrations)2012.

Some studies suggested that even slightly increased fluoride exposure could be toxic to the brain.

In March of 2014, The Lancet medical journal published a review of neurobehavioral effects of developmental toxicity, which concluded that fluoride is one of only 11 chemicals that is known to damage the developing brain and it is capable of causing widespread brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and other cognitive impairments. In most cases the damage is often untreatable and permanent2014. According to this, fluoride is classified as dangerous to developing brains.

In a bulletin posted on the Harvard School of Public Health website, Grandjean notes that:

Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain. The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.


Results on this are mixed. For instance, Reference 1 states that there is no correlation, whereas, Reference 2 states that their results "suggest that the overall IQ of the children exposed to high fluoride levels in drinking water and hence suffering from dental fluorosis were significantly lower than those of the low fluoride area."

I think the New Zealand study explains these finding quite nicely: "Associations between very high fluoride exposure and low IQ reported in previous studies may have been affected by confounding, particularly by urban or rural status."

Reference 3 concludes "children who live in a fluorosis area have five times higher odds of developing low IQ than those who live in a nonfluorosis area or a slight fluorosis area."

Due to the sheer amount of mixed findings on this topic, I cannot answer your question with an iota of certainty. I could most certainly give you my opinion, however, it is hardly relevant ;) .


  1. (No correlation) Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24832151
  2. (Correlation) Relationship Between Dental Fluorosis and Intelligence Quotient of School Going Children In and Around Lucknow District: A Cross-Sectional Study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26673535
  3. (Correlation) Fluoride and children's intelligence: a meta-analysis, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18695947/

As the saying goes, anything is a poison, it's the dose that matters. Short summary, the new 2015 US PHS standard (0.7 mg/L) or even the old one (0.7-1.2 mg/L) are below the doses at which negative effects were observed in China (2.5-4.1 mg/L), and the evidence from there is not of high quality, even though there's one meta-analysis of it. (As a cautionary tale on inferring from low quality evidence, the first meta-analysis of homeopathy found positive results, latter ones which filtered out low-quality studies were more skeptical.)

But back to fluoride, what did the United States Public Health Service (PHS), actually decide in 2015?

For these community water systems that add fluoride, PHS now recommends an optimal fluoride concentration of 0.7 milligrams/liter (mg/L). In this guidance, the optimal concentration of fluoride in drinking water is the concentration that provides the best balance of protection from dental caries while limiting the risk of dental fluorosis. The earlier PHS recommendation for fluoride concentrations was based on outdoor air temperature of geographic areas and ranged from 0.7–1.2 mg/L.

As for neurotoxicity, this was PHS's review of the new evidence:

IQ and other neurological effects. The standard letters and approximately 100 unique responses expressed concern about fluoride's impact on the brain, specifically citing lower IQ in children. Several Chinese studies considered in detail by the NRC review reported lower IQ among children exposed to fluoride in drinking water at mean concentrations of 2.5–4.1 mg/L—several times higher than concentrations recommended for community water fluoridation.[81–83] The NRC found that “the significance of these Chinese studies is uncertain” because important procedural details were omitted, but also stated that findings warranted additional research on the effects of fluoride on intelligence.[6]

Based on animal studies, the NRC committee speculated about potential mechanisms for nervous system changes and called for more research “to clarify the effect of fluoride on brain chemistry and function.” These recommendations should be considered in the context of the NRC review, which limited its conclusions regarding adverse effects to water fluoride concentrations of 2–4 mg/L and did “not address the lower exposures commonly experienced by most U.S. citizens.”[6] A recent meta-analysis of studies conducted in rural China, including those considered by the NRC report, identified an association between high fluoride exposure (i.e., drinking water concentrations ranging up to 11.5 mg/L) and lower IQ scores; study authors noted the low quality of included studies and the inability to rule out other explanations.[84] A subsequent review cited this meta-analysis to support its identification of “raised fluoride concentrations” in drinking water as a developmental neurotoxicant.[85]

A review by SCHER also considered the neurotoxicity of fluoride in water and determined that there was not enough evidence from well-controlled studies to conclude if fluoride in drinking water at concentrations used for community fluoridation might impair the IQ of children. The review also noted that “a biological plausibility for the link between fluoridated water and IQ has not been established.”[79] Findings of a recent prospective study of a birth cohort in New Zealand did not support an association between fluoride exposure, including residence in an area with fluoridated water during early childhood, and IQ measured repeatedly during childhood and at age 38 years.[86]

From the actual New Zealand study we find out they used a simiar standard as the US, albeit slighly lower at 0.7-1 mg/L, and no effect on IQ was noticeable at this level of exposure.

And the stated reason for lowering the PHS standard in 2015 to just 0.7mg/L was based on risk of fluorosis

Although not fully generalizable to the current U.S. context, these findings, along with findings from the 1986–1987 survey of U.S. schoolchildren, suggest that the risk of fluorosis can be reduced and caries prevention maintained toward the lower end (i.e., 0.7 mg/L) of the 1962 PHS recommendations for community water fluoridation.

and lack of need for the higher value (1.2 mg/L)

Recent data do not show a convincing relationship between water intake and outdoor air temperature. Thus, recommendations for water fluoride concentrations that differ based on outdoor temperature are unnecessary.

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