A naturally occurring mineral that is well-known for its ability to minimize cavities and protect oral health, fluoride was first added to the drinking water supply in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945. Today, most municipal water supplies in the United States are fluoridated, as are the water supplies of many other countries.
In combination with fluoridated toothpastes and prescription fluoride treatments, water fluoridation has shown dramatic results in reducing the number of cavities in both children and adults. Yet the internet is filled with myths about fluoride. Here are the facts behind some common myths.
Myth: Removing water fluoridation would help cash-strapped communities save money.
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable suggestion. But repeated studies have shown that community water fluoridation has a higher return on investment than any other public health measure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it only costs around 50 cents per year to fluoridate the water in communities of over 20,000 residents. Compare that to the costs of treating diseased teeth and the time lost from work to visit the dentist for treatments.
Myth: Fluoridated water is no longer necessary since fluoridated toothpaste is readily available.
Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the CDC continue to recommend that all municipal water sources be fluoridated at a level of 0.7 parts per million (ppm), despite the availability of fluoridated toothpaste. In fact, the rise in bottled water consumption is putting people’s teeth at risk. Dentists often prescribe fluoride tablets to children who do not drink tap water, as well as those living in communities without fluoridated water.
Myth: Fluoride use is linked to lower IQ scores and problem behaviors.
A few international studies have found a possible link between high fluoride consumption and problems with intelligence and behavior. However, there are a number of problems with these studies. First, they used questionable research methods to gather unreliable data, and failed to account for such external variables as arsenic exposure and contaminated grains. Second, they were not peer-reviewed by independent researchers and cannot be replicated. Finally, they focused on fluoride levels that are far higher than those used in the United States.
Within the U.S., numerous well-crafted, peer-reviewed studies have shown tremendous benefits from the fluoride programs currently in use, and absolutely no adverse effects.
Myth: Fluoride causes cancer.
Social media has given this myth endless legs, despite the fact that scientific research has repeatedly debunked it. In more than 50 epidemiological studies, using subjects of varying ages and genders, from different locations, at different times, not a single link between fluoride and cancer has ever been shown.
Myth: Fluoride is dangerous for babies and small children.
This myth is based on a misunderstanding of a condition known as dental fluorosis. Overexposure to fluoride during the first eight years of life can cause this cosmetic condition, which creates faint white streaks on the teeth. Dental fluorosis does not affect the health or function of the teeth, nor does it cause pain.
Because the staining is aesthetically displeasing and can be difficult to treat, dentists tend to monitor how much fluoride their young patients receive. However, the ADA has concluded that reasonable amounts of fluoride are perfectly safe and beneficial for infants and young children.