Millions of Ethiopians suffer from dental fluorosis, a condition caused by drinking water with high fluoride concentration
Brook Solomon was born and raised in the town of Shashemene, 230 km south of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Growing up, he drank fluoride-contaminated water.
Now, 23-years-old, he rises early to care for his fluoride-tainted teeth.
“I wake up every morning and give special care to my teeth before going out,” he told Anadolu Agency. “I do this every day.”
Another sufferer, Fitsum Agza, was born and raised in Adama city, some 100 km east of the capital. It is a city that falls in the Ethiopian Great Rift Valley.
“Fluoride-tainted teeth begin to show after one cuts his or her milk teeth and when the permanent teeth grow,” he said. “People think we smoke, looking at our tarnished teeth.”
Like many families in Ethiopia, Brook’s and Fitsum’s condition is a family affair.
“All my sisters have it,” Brook said.
“We (siblings) all have it, but our parents do not,” said Fitsum, suggesting that fluoride affects people who drink contaminated water from childhood onwards.
Both suffer from dental fluorosis, a disease caused by frequent consumption of water with a high concentration of fluoride.
These are only two of the tens of millions of Ethiopians suffering from the ill effects of fluoride, which also deforms bones.
“Fluoride concentration along the rift valley belt is high in areas stretching from Afar state to Wolayta Dimitu in south Ethiopia, where its negative effect is more visible,” said Dr. Aweke Kebede, a nutrition researcher at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
Dr. Aweke said the chemical found deep in the earth rises to the surface due to volcanic eruptions; hot springs mix with the available surface water, which people then use.
He said that fluoride chemicals expose Ethiopians who dwell in the rift valley regions to dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis — diseases caused by high levels of consumption of water with fluoride content.
He said the chemical cracks and changes the color of teeth.
“Fluoride also causes bone deformities and fractures,” Aweke said. “Sometimes, excessive intake of fluoride-mix water causes nerve problems, though not directly.”
He said that in areas along the rift valley, the volume of fluoride content is 1.5 to 4 milligrams per liter of water.
“People consume more than one liter of water per day, making the volume of fluoride multiplied by the number of liters of water consumed,” Dr. Aweke said.
The rift valley is a region marked by high temperatures and excessive sweating causes increased intake of fluoride contaminated water, he said, adding that the effect could be mitigated by filtration mechanisms and using water from uncontaminated sources.
Dr. Aweke also said he discovered through his research that consuming food with increased calcium content halves the effects of fluoride on the body.
Bizuneh Tolcha, head of public relations with the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, told Anadolu Agency that “along the rift valley region, nearly 14 million people are likely to be affected by fluoride.”
Bizuneh said that the number of fluoride-caused diseases decreased in some towns as the government developed and channeled water from uncontaminated highland springs.
Though a short-term solution, Bizuneh said that his ministry “has considered ways of purifying water contaminated by fluoride.”
Five years ago, the government set up a special committee dedicated to recommending remedial measures to put an end to the widespread problem of fluorosis.
By and large, the campaign to provide society with fluoride-free water remains the country’s biggest unsolved problem yet.