The Impact of Fluoride in Drinking Water on Tooth Decay in Adults

Of all the public health measures that the United States has accomplished in the past 75 years, the impact of adding fluoride to drinking water to prevent tooth decay in adults and children ranks as one of the most successful.

Fluoridated Water Nationwide

Today, over 74.6 percent of Americans that are connected to community water systems enjoy the benefits of a fluoridated water supply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The effort has saved American families millions of dollars in dental treatment and has positive benefits for both children and adults.

There are wide ranges of fluoridation rates across the country, with Washington, D.C. (100 percent), Kentucky (99.9 percent) and Minnesota (98.8 percent) among the highest, and Hawaii (10.8 percent), New Jersey (14.6 percent) and Oregon (22.6 percent) among the lowest. Some states, such as Illinois, have passed statewide legislation mandating towns and communities above a certain size to incorporate community water fluoridation. In Illinois, 98.5 percent of the population enjoys the benefits of fluoridated water to prevent dental disease.

The American Dental Association has endorsed the fluoridation of community water supplies since 1950 and considers it safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay in adults, and also in children. In 1993, the ADA celebrated the 50th anniversary of Grand Rapids, Mich., fluoridating its water supply, the first community to do so. Residents of Grand Rapids are still reaping the benefits of that effort 70 years later.

Proven Benefits

Despite organizations' recent attempts to remove fluoride from community water supplies, local dentists, pediatricians and other health care providers have banded together to combat the misinformation that some of these groups have used to try to reverse the progress made by this public health endeavor. Recent research has helped to stop the negative image of community water fluoridation, and the reduction of tooth decay in adults has continued to be proven as an additional benefit. Since most of the early beneficiaries of fluoridation were children in the early '60s, today's adults have had the exposure to fluoridated water for a substantial majority of their lives.

The rate of tooth decay in adults whose water supplies were fluoridated is dramatically less than that of their peers who didn't receive fluoridated water at the same age, found a recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina and the University of Adelaide in Australia, discussed in an article written in the Journal of Dental Research. In another earlier study published by The Journal of the American Dental Association, two Canadian cities in Ontario were compared: one that was naturally fluoridated (Stratford) and one that wasn't (Woodstock). The findings showed that a significantly lesser amount of root caries (or cavities) appeared among the residents of the town that had the naturally occurring fluoride.

Fluoride Options at the Dentist

Fluoridation of the water supply is only one of three fluoride therapies that dentists and other oral health providers recommend. During routine preventive visits, dentists will recommend that you have a fluoride varnish treatment, such as Colgate® PreviDent® Varnish (Rx only), following your prophylaxis treatment or root planing and scaling appointment.

Your dentist and dental hygienist will also recommend that you use a fluoride-containing toothpaste for routine teeth cleaning at least twice a day after meals — all Colgate toothpastes contain fluoride. It is important to note that each of these fluoride therapies have different formulations that vary based on their specific role in preventing cavities, root sensitivity and plaque buildup, and cause no harm to your existing teeth and gums.

The addition of fluoride to your daily oral care regimen is an important step in preventing tooth decay in adults and will promote a lifetime of cavity prevention.

About the author: Dr. Huot is the founder and CEO of Beachside Dental Consultants Inc. He has lectured at many meetings, and his past articles have been featured in Dental Products Report, Dental Economics, Dental Practice Report, ADA News and state dental journals. Dr. Huot recently retired from the USAF Reserve Dental Corps after 30 years of military duty, and his most recent assignment was as the Commander of the 920th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Patrick AFB, Florida. A past president of the Maine Dental Association in 1994 and the 2006 president of the Atlantic Coast District Dental Association in Florida, Dr. Huot is a Fellow of the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists, the Academy of General Dentistry and the Pierre Fauchard Academy.

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