Water fluoridation is the addition of fluoride (derived from fluorine) to public water supplies for the purpose of reducing cavities. Currently 74.6% or 190 million people in the United States have fluoridated water in their homes.
Why do communities add fluoride to drinking water?
In 1945, the city officials of Grand Rapids, MI decided to add small amounts of fluoride to their water supply. Their intent was to test the theory that the fluoride would help against tooth decay, especially for children. Before the experiment had been studied for the recommended 15 years, the overall rate of tooth decay in the children observed dropped over 60 percent.
By 1960, over fifty million Americans had fluoride in their drinking water, and the Centers for Disease Control considers fluoridation one of the most important public health advances of the 20th century.
Is it safe?
- For people of all ages, fluoride works topically on tooth surfaces. Fluoride mixes with saliva, and when the saliva neutralizes acids produced by bacteria on teeth, the fluoride joins the enamel crystals on the tooth surfaces, healing and protecting the teeth from further decay.
- Fluoride combines with the calcium and phosphate of the developing teeth and makes them more resistant to decay, especially during the first few years after they come into the mouth.
Is it ethical?
- Fluoride is not a medication – it is a type of nutrient. The practice of adding nutrients to consumable products include Vitamin D being added to milk to prevent a disease called rickets and iodine is added to salt to prevent goiter, which affects the thyroid gland.
- Chlorine is added to drinking water to prevent outbreaks of E. coli or other forms of bacteria. Having a community water system means a city or town cannot pick and choose which households receive chlorinated water and which ones do not. The same is true for fluoride.
Is it effective?
- A 2010 study confirmed that the fluoridated water consumed as a young child makes the loss of teeth (due to decay) less likely 40 or 50 years later when that child is a middle-aged adult.
- At a time when more than 100 million Americans lack dental insurance, fluoridation offers an easy, inexpensive preventive strategy that everyone benefits from simply by turning on their tap.
- Fluoridated water is also the most inexpensive way to provide fluoride. The per-person annual cost of fluoride rinse programs is roughly double the cost of fluoridated water. The per-person annual cost of fluoride supplements is more than 70 times higher than fluoridated water. Fluoride varnishes or gels also cost more than providing fluoridated water.
Fluoridation does spark a heated debate between opponents and supporters. A reverse-osmosis filter can be used to remove the fluoride in your tap water, but be aware of the benefits you are denying yourself and your family – especially your children who benefit the most from the addition.