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Why Do We Fluoridate Drinking Water?

Water fluoridation is the process of adding fluoride to public water supplies in controlled amounts for the purpose of preventing teeth cavities. Fluoride is a natural occurring ionic compound found in soil, rocks, fresh water and ocean water in varying levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two-thirds of the U.S. population has access to fluoridated public water. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends fluoride to be added to water supplies at an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water for safe and cost-effective dental health care.


How Does Fluoride Work?

To explain how fluoride works, we first need to understand how tooth decay occurs. Tooth decay occurs when the acid produced by the bacteria in plaque penetrates the tooth enamel, weakening it and leading to the formation of cavities. Fluoride combats tooth decay when it attaches to the tooth enamel, helping to strengthen the structure of the developing teeth enamel especially for children with less than seven years. With the right amount of fluoride application, not only is the tooth strengthened but it becomes more resistant to acids. Fluoride combines with hydroxyapatite, a compound found in the teeth to form a substance called fluorapatite, which is less susceptible to erosion by oral acids. Fluoride will prevent some of the most destructive enzymes found in plaque and stop them from producing the acid that facilitates weakening of the teeth enamel.


Further, another way that fluoride helps to protect the teeth is by replacing the already weakened enamel through a process called remineralization. It also ensures that the replaced enamel is kept much stronger and less susceptible to breakdown, preventing new cavities from forming.


History of Fluoridation

Frederick McKay, a dentist in Colorado, noticed many Colorado natives had brown staining on their teeth. The affected individual’s teeth also showed resistance to tooth decay. He concluded that the staining was caused by the excessive fluoride-rich water supplies in the area.


Water fluoridation, however, was introduced to the public in 1945. Through the Grand Rapids water fluoridation study, researchers observed 11 years into the project that the tooth decay rate had decreased by 60 percent among Grand Rapids children born after the introduction of the pilot study. Upon this success, states moved forward with public water fluoridation programs to reduce the incidence of tooth decay and promote dental health.


Do We Really Need Fluoride?

There is a lot of information available about fluoride with some sources leading us to believe that fluoride is helpful and others suggesting that it’s not that good. Scientific research over the years has however shown that fluoride at optimum levels in drinking water is safe and efficient in reducing the incidences of dental carries by an estimated 25% in both children and adults. Although it cannot repair major tooth cavities, fluoride can reverse low levels of tooth decay and prevent an occurrence of new cavities. With the evolution of modern diets and prevalence of acid producing bacteria in our oral systems, it becomes essential to protect our teeth from daily wear and tear through fluoride consumption.


Too much fluoride, just like all other minerals leads to brown staining and dental fluorosis in children which permanently disrupts the process of enamel formation. Long-term exposure to high levels of fluoride also causes fluoride build-up in the bones and teeth causing stiffness, pain and even weakening of bones.

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