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Toxins in Everyday Life - Fluoride

water dental fluoridation drinking

Fluoride was first added to drinking water in 1945 to control dental caries and prevent tooth decay. Dental caries is an infectious, communicable disease in which bacteria dissolve the enamel surface of a tooth. Left unchecked, the bacteria may then penetrate the underlying dentin and soft tissue, resulting in tooth loss, discomfort, and even acute infection throughout the body. At the beginning of the twentieth century, dental caries was common in the United States and most developed countries. Failure to meet the minimum standard of having six opposing teeth was a leading cause of rejection from military service in both world wars.

Dental caries declined greatly during the second half of the twentieth century, and many people attribute the decline to fluoridation of the public drinking water supply and the addition of fluoride to toothpastes and mouth washes. By 2000 approximately 57 percent of the U.S. population received drinking water that was fluoridated. (See Figure 8.5.) This is in addition to a small percentage of the population that has access to naturally fluoridated water. Groundwater and surface waters naturally contain about 0.1 to 0.2 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride. The recommended level of fluoride in water to prevent tooth decay is 0.7 to 1.2 ppm.

The widespread use of fluoridated water and dental aids has ensured that virtually everyone in the United States has been exposed to fluoride. The CDC estimates that fluoride has reduced tooth decay in children by as much as 40 to 70 percent and in adults by 40 to 60 percent. Water fluoridation is believed to be especially beneficial in low-income areas where residents often have less access to dental-care services and other sources of fluoride. Consequently, the CDC rates the fluoridation of drinking water as among the top ten greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century.

Critics say that the benefits of fluoride have been grossly overestimated and the hazards largely ignored. They point out that fluoridation of drinking water is not done in much of western Europe, yet those regions have experienced the same declines in dental caries seen in the United States. There have been long-standing concerns about the negative effects of fluoridation. Many communities have rejected fluoridation FIGURE 8.4
Area of midsummer hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, 1985-2002
of their drinking water when the issue was presented for a vote. Worries continue about the possible links between fluoridation and dental fluorosis (mottling of the teeth), skeletal fluorosis (accumulation of excessive fluoride in the bones), kidney disease, birth defects, and cancer. Research as of 2004 has not been conclusive.

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