At one time there was no question that adding fluoride to toothpaste and municipal drinking water was a great step forward for the dental health of millions of people. But then along came the internet where anyone could easily publish their views, and suddenly the desirability of using fluoride was a contentious issue. Some people claimed that fluoride was unnecessary for dental health; others insisted that its use was downright dangerous (even deadly), while health authorities and dentists maintained that fluoridation was both safe and effective. So what’s the truth?
Fluoride Does Prevent Cavities
Plenty of research shows that adding fluoride to water supplies reduces tooth decay among children. For example, when tooth decay rates were compared between fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities in Illinois and Nebraska, the children in fluoridated areas had tooth decay rates 45% lower than children in towns that didn’t add fluoride to the water.
Fluoride’s protective effect isn’t limited to children; it has proven to be beneficial for adult dental health, too, with research determining that fluoridation has resulted in a 27% lower rate of adult tooth decay.
Data derived from Medicare figures also shows the benefits of water fluoridation, with those living in non-fluoridated areas requiring 33.4% more fillings, root canals and tooth extractions than those in fluoridated areas.
Fluoride Is Safe
Contrary to the claims made by some alternative health websites, drinking fluoridated water and using fluoride toothpaste are both very safe practices. Every leading health agency in the world recommends the appropriate use of fluoride, and notes the positive effects that low-cost water fluoridation has on community dental health.
There is no evidence to suggest fluoride causes cancer or any other serious health condition, nor, as some detractors have claimed, does fluoride lower IQ. In fact, during the 70 years that the United States has used fluoride in municipal water supplies, average IQ has actually risen by around 15 points.
There is Only One Risk Associated with Fluoride
Too much fluoride can cause a condition called dental fluorosis, which results in discolored tooth enamel. Fluorosis is caused when excessive amounts of fluoride are consumed before teeth have erupted through the gums. Fluorosis isn’t attributed to fluoridated water. Rather it is due to children using more than the recommended amount of toothpaste, and swallowing toothpaste instead of spitting it out.
To prevent fluorosis, always supervise your children when they brush their teeth, make sure that under-three’s use just a smear of toothpaste, and those aged 3 – 6 use a pea sized amount and that they spit it out.
If you’re worried about the possibility of fluorosis, ask your dentist for advice on using fluoride toothpaste in very young children.
In over seven decades of use, the addition of enamel strengthening fluoride to toothpaste and drinking water has saved millions of people from painful and destructive dental decay. Adding fluoride to water supplies is a cost effective public health measure (especially when over 100 million Americans don’t have dental insurance), and to benefit all you have to do is turn on your kitchen tap.