When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assembled a list of the 10 greatest public health achievements in the United States in the 20th century, fluoridation of drinking water made the cut. Water fluoridation is supported by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Public Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Dental Association. In fact, virtually all public health, medical, and dental organizations recommend making fluoridated water available to the public. Why does this practice receive such strong support from health professionals? What is the impact of fluoride in water?
The Impact of Fluoride in Water
Water fluoridation is almost universally supported by health organizations because its impact has been staggeringly positive. According to the American Dental Association, studies indicate that water fluoridation reduces cavities in adults and children by 25 percent.
How Does Fluoride Prevent Cavities?
When a person eats or drinks, bacteria in the mouth use the sugars and starches contained within the food to produce acid. Over time, this acid can wear away the enamel that forms the hard outer layer of the teeth. Tooth decay and cavities are the results of this process. Fluoride, a mineral that is found naturally in many foods and water sources, helps to counter the destructive powers of the acid. In sufficient doses, it strengthens the enamel, improving its ability to withstand contact with acid. Fluoride actually supports the enamel in two ways. First, it provides a systemic benefit by strengthening the enamel in teeth that have not yet erupted, so they are better able to resist the damaging acids once they break through the gum. In addition, fluoride strengthens and repairs tooth enamel in teeth that have erupted through a process called remineralization.
The level of fluoride naturally present in most water sources is not enough to effectively combat tooth decay. That is where water fluoridation comes in. Much like iodide is added to salt, folic acid is added to bread, and vitamin D is added to enrich milk, many communities supplement the natural levels of fluoride in their water supplies by adding more.
The Benefits of Water Fluoridation
In 1944, Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first city in the world to add fluoride to its drinking water, and many other municipalities quickly followed suit. Today, some 200 million Americans benefit from water fluoridation projects, according to the National Institutes of Health. The impact of fluoride in water is impressive. Drinking fluoridated water produces the following benefits:
- It protects teeth. The fluoride provided by this water strengthens and repairs teeth, preventing tooth decay and cavities in both adults and children.
- It promotes wellness. Dental health is a factor in overall wellness. Oral pain and tooth loss can interfere with a person’s ability to eat healthy foods, and infections that start in the mouth can spread through the bloodstream and trigger serious health troubles. Therefore, protecting a person’s oral health also protects their overall health.
- It saves money. Community water fluoridation is an incredibly cost-effective form of preventative care. The average lifetime cost per person is generally less than the price of a single dental filling.
- It’s safe. With a history that spans more than 70 years and nearly universal support from health organizations, the delivery of fluoride in water is clearly both safe and effective.
Other Places to Find Fluoride
While the positive impact of fluoride in water is definitely worth noting, people aren’t doomed to do without if they happen to live in an area that relies on well water or doesn’t add fluoride to its public water supply. Most toothpastes now contain fluoride, so using one of these products while brushing can provide some fluoride. People over the age of six can also opt to add a mouthwash that contains fluoride to their oral health care routine. Use of these mouthwashes by young children is discouraged because their swallowing reflexes are not fully developed, so they are more likely to accidentally swallow it.
Other options for getting sufficient fluoride can be found at the dentist’s office. A dentist can prescribe supplements. In fact, tablets, drops, and lozenges containing fluoride are generally recommended for children who do not routinely drink fluoridated water. A dentist can also offer fluoride treatments, applying this natural, cavity-fighting substance directly to the teeth.
Now that you know the impact of fluoride in water, do you believe you’re getting sufficient fluoride to safeguard your teeth? Would additional fluoride help protect your smile? What steps should you take to ensure that your teeth are getting the fluoride they need to be healthy? If you are unsure about the fluoride levels in your drinking water or have other fluoride-related questions, contact Wilkinson Dental if you live in southwest Missouri. Dr. Wilkinson and his team will give you the personalized treatment you deserve using state-of-the-art technology. Schedule your first appointment today by calling 417-708-0556 or requesting an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!