The practice of adding fluoride to public water supplies, first introduced in 1945, has since become a common practice in many places around the world. However, it is not without controversy – and although unfounded, it is not unusual for concerns to arise about its safety. But why is it put in water in the first place? And what makes it safe to do this?
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in soil, water and air after being released from rocks. Many people will be familiar with it due to its use in dental care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, although it can also be found in some medications and, rarely, dietary supplements.
Why was it first added to water?
In areas where fluoride levels in the water supply are naturally low, some authorities have added it because, at recommended levels, it can help prevent tooth decay. That is why it is found in many toothpastes. It does this by helping to rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel, the hard, protective outer layer on our teeth. As a result, consistent contact with fluoride helps keep teeth strong and prevents the formation of nasty cavities.
This relationship was first noted in the 19th century, and after research into the safety of fluoride in the 1930s and 1940s, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city in the world to fluoridate its public water supply in 1945. Nearly 80 years later, community water fluoridation is estimated to help reduce tooth decay by 25 percent in children and adults.
Case in point: A city in Ontario, Canada, stopped adding fluoride to its water supply after fifty years, only to add it again five years later when the number of children with tooth decay or emergency dental needs skyrocketed by 51. per cent.
“For decades, low fluoridation of public water has proven to have a dramatic effect on the rate of tooth decay, especially in children,” British dentist and dental issues writer Ollie Jupes told IFLScience.
“Where fluoridation has been introduced, there is invariably a measurable difference in the rate of decay, compared to non-fluoridated areas. The rate of decay in fluoridated areas can decrease by as much as 25 percent. Removing fluoride from the water supply is madness.”
Why do some people want to remove it?
While a significant amount of evidence supports the conclusion that adding fluoride to the public water supply is safe, an equally abundant supply of myths surround its use. As a result, there have recently been calls to ban fluoridation – and in the US there is currently an ongoing court battle to decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should do so due to concerns about its potential effects on child development .
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists in the United States and around the world have studied the safety and benefits of fluoridated water for a century and have found no consistent and convincing evidence linking water fluoridation to water . any potential adverse health effect other than dental fluorosis.”
Dental fluorosis can occur in children if they are overexposed to fluoride during development. However, it is not harmful to their health; it causes white, sometimes brown, speckles on the teeth. Therefore, fluoride is often not found in toothpastes made for young children.
While it’s true that high doses of fluoride can pose a health hazard — it’s been linked to a bone disease called skeletal fluorosis — that kind of level isn’t added to the public water supply. In the US, the decision to fluoridate lies with individual states or local authorities, but if they choose to do so, there is still a legal limit set and regulated by the EPA.
The bottom line is that fluoride in the public water supply, when used in appropriate amounts, provides safe drinking water, reducing tooth decay and its knock-on effects. And while there may be one lawsuit in which people want to ban fluoridation, there is another that shows many others are hoping for the opposite.
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The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding medical conditions.