Oral & Vision Health Blog

How Lead in Water Affects the Teeth and Body

Flint, Mich. has made huge headlines over the past several months because of the water crisis happening there. About two years ago, the state decided to save money—during a financial state of emergency in Flint—by switching the water supply from Lake Huron (which they were paying the city of Detroit for), to the Flint River. This water source that runs through the town is well known to be filthy. The switch was supposed to be temporary.

But after the switch, residents started noticing that the waterlooked brown and dirty. It turns out the state’s Department of Environmental Quality wasn’t treating the Flint River water—which is high in harmful iron—with an anti-corrosive agent. This eroded the iron water mains. To make matters worse, about half of the water lines to Flint homes are made of lead. So because the water was corrosive, lead began seeping into the water supply, in addition to the iron.  

When that happens, and residents (including young children) drink the contaminated lead water, it causes physical and neurological conditions that can last generations. Lead in water is highly toxic and dangerous. 

Lead’s Harmful Effects

Lead is a toxic metal. Its use (such as lead paint in homes) has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and substantial public health problems in many parts of the world—including the United States.

Lead in the body is detrimental on many levels. Once it enters the body, it gets into the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. It’s stored in the teeth and bones where it builds up over time. Lead stored in the bones may be reactivated into the blood stream during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus.

Lead’s effects are nothing short of detrimental, especially for children:

  • High levels of exposure. Lead attacks the brain and central nervous system, which can cause coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with severe developmental delays and behavioral issues.
  • Lower levels of exposure. Lead produces a vast amount of injury across multiple body systems. Particularly, it affects children’s brain development. This can result in a reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral challenges such as decreased attention span, increased antisocial behavior and lower educational achievement.
  • Other conditions. Lead exposure also causes health conditions such as anemia, hypertension and adverse effects on reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral results of lead are believed to be irreversible. There is no known safe amount of lead that can be in the body.

What Can be Done?

Once the level of exposure has happened in a town such as Flint, the long-term effects are dire. But, according, to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead poisoning can be fought with a healthy diet. Foods that are good for your teeth and body may help. Look to proteins, veggies and fruits. Also, it's a good idea to check that lead in water doesn't exist where you live. 

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