About Fluorosis

The Main Ethiopian Rift Valley is part of the Great East African Rift System, where a large population is regularly exposed to naturally occurring fluoride in groundwater.

This map shows the range of fluoride levels in water sampling sites. Sites within the purple block where also selected for examination of dental fluorosis.

While an optimum level of fluoride intake plays an essential role in the development of teeth enamel, excessive fluoride consumption interferes with the normal formation of teeth enamel and bones. This disease is called dental and skeletal fluorosis. Of about 10 million people living in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, an estimated 8 million are at risk for fluorosis and over 80% of children have developed various degrees of dental fluorosis.

Early signs of fluoroisis can be seen in people’s teeth, characterized by staining and pitting of the enamel. In more severe cases all the enamel may be damaged. Chronic high-level exposure to fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis. Early symptoms include stiffness and pain in the joints. In severe cases, the bone structure may change and ligaments may calcify, with resulting impairment of muscles and pain.

This disease causes people pain, impairs their ability to work, and is socially stigmatizing. Rural communities in the Rift Valley are aware that their water is contaminated with high levels of flouride. However, with few options for water and fewer economic resources people in the region still primarily rely on groundwater wells for drinking and domestic uses.

For more information about fluorosis refer to the following sites:

World Health Organization

Environmental Protection Agency