Recently, the US Public Health Service issued new recommendations to slightly lower the amount of fluoride that’s put in our community drinking water.
That’s because we have access to other sources of fluoride, mostly toothpaste and mouth rinses, so we don’t need as much in the water supply.
Since the early 1960s our tap water has been fluoridated, and the incidence of tooth decay has been significantly decreased. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) hails community water fluoridation as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
Where I grew up, we did not have fluoridated water, and I had lots of cavities as a result, even though my mother was very strict about teeth brushing and never gave us sweets. My son, on the other hand, had the benefit of fluoride and never had a cavity as a child.
But there are groups of people that are opposed to fluoridation, just like those that refuse vaccinations, and they spread fearful reports on the harms of fluoride to scare people away from drinking fluoridated tap water.
But scientific evidence supports the benefits of fluoride.
Aaron Carroll, MD, the pediatrician who blogs at The Incidental Economist, wrote a great post detailing the research behind fluoridation.
The evidence for how well fluoride works is massive. A compilation of the results of 113 studies in 23 countries showed reductions in tooth decay for both baby teeth and adult teeth. People with fluoride in their water had 40-49% less tooth decay in baby teeth and 50-59% less tooth decay in adult teeth.
Of course, preventing cavities might not be worth endangering your health in other ways. Some people are concerned about water fluoridation leading to cancer, thyroid problems, neurological problems, heart disease, and other toxicities. Is fluoride really safe? Once again, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the safety of adding fluoride to a community water supply.
There is one real problem that can result from too much fluoride – dental fluorosis. This is a discoloration of the teeth that can occur when a child ingests more fluoride than is recommended. With mild dental fluorosis, the teeth get white flecks or spots, but with severe fluorosis the teeth can get a permanent brown stain.
Toothpaste delivers a much more concentrated amount of fluoride than the drinking water does. So, the biggest cause of fluorosis is likely swallowed toothpaste, not the water.
Read his post for more information on the specific scientific studies, or watch him discuss it on his YouTube channel, Healthcare Triage:
The docs at Science Based Medicine also have a good post refuting the harms of fluoridation: Fluoride—Still Not Poisoning Your Precious Bodily Fluids
Home water filters do not usually filter out fluoride, but check the manufacturer’s information. And most bottled water is not fluoridated. Kids (or adults) who drink bottled water exclusively will not benefit from the fluoride and might be at higher risk of developing cavities.
Fun-to-read books by Aaron Carroll, MD