The importance of water fluoridation on dental and overall health

American Dental Education Association

Leading up to Public Health Thank You Day (PHTYD), there is no accomplishment more worthy to celebrate than community water fluoridation. Optimal water fluoridation is a safe and cost-effective intervention, reducing oral health disparities and preventing tooth decay by 25% over a lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers community water fluoridation as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. September marked the 70th anniversary of community water fluoridation and its longstanding public health benefits.  To commemorate this seminal anniversary, Representative Mike Simpson, D.M.D. (R-ID) introduced H.Res.416, a resolution celebrating community water fluoridation as the nation’s most effective public health intervention to prevent tooth decay.

In 1945, an experimental study in Grand Rapids, Michigan found that water fluoridation drastically reduced the occurrence and severity of tooth decay compared to non-fluoridated communities. Fluoride was found to help rebuild and strengthen the tooth’s surface from acid produced by bacteria in the mouth after eating sugary foods and drinks. Almost all groundwater naturally contains some fluoride, but usually not enough to prevent tooth decay. Therefore, state and local governments must decide to adjust the fluoride concentration in their water systems to a level that will reduce tooth decay and promote oral health. Nearly 70% of communities across the country have decided to fluoridate their public water systems, providing more than $25.7 billion in savings of dental treatment costs between 1990 and 2000.

Many vulnerable and underserved populations face substantial barriers to access dental care, but community water fluoridation ensures adequate fluoride exposure regardless of access to oral health care, insurance coverage, or the ability to pay for dental care. Low-income children have the highest risk of tooth decay and the greatest need for dental care. Nearly one in four children living in low-income families has untreated tooth decay, which can result in pain, school absences, and poor school performance.  Even though tooth decay is preventable, it is one of the most common chronic diseases among children—five times more common than asthma. Persistent exposure to water containing optimal fluoridation in is an effective approach to reduce the risk of tooth decay at the population level because it does not require any individual behavioral change.

More than 100 national and international health, service and professional organizations support community water fluoridation, including the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), American Academy of Pediatrics, United States Public Health Service, and the World Health Organization. Along with these and other organizations, ADEA continues to promote community water fluoridation and appreciates the platform to share its vital importance to the overall health and well-being of the nation.

The American Dental Education Association is The Voice of Dental Education. Its members include all 76 U.S. and Canadian dental schools, over 800 allied and advanced dental education programs, 66 corporations and more than 20,000 individuals. 

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