Written by Julie Revelant
Community water fluoridation has been around for more than 65 years, and although proponents cite many benefits, the practice has come under fire recently as critics are questioning the amount our children are consuming – and if it’s even necessary.
Touted as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community water fluoridation has been shown to significantly decrease tooth decay. Systematic reviews conducted by the Community Preventive Services Task Force found that tooth decay in children ages 4 to 17 years old declined by 29 percent as a result of fluoride in the water.
“Children who are in communities with fluoridated water have fewer and less severe cavities,” said Dr. Bill Bailey, acting director of the division of oral health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Good oral health not only affects your physical health, but also your psychological, emotional, and social health – and your economic health as a family.”
Community fluoridation also saves money on costly dental treatments, according to a report in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.
“It’s still the single most effective public health measurement to prevent dental decay,” said Dr. Adriana Segura, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on oral health.
In 2010, approximately 73 percent of the population had access to fluoridated water, according to the CDC. The decision to add fluoride to the water supply is decided at the community or state level. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia currently have legislation that mandates it.
Despite the benefits, tooth decay remains a problem for children of all ages. In fact, 25 percent of children 6 to 11 years old and 59 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 years old have tooth decay, according to the CDC. But experts say the problem goes beyond fluoride.
“Tooth decay, like all other diseases, is multi-factorial” said Bailey, who added that brushing, diet, and access to care – in addition to fluoride – provides the best protection.