Recently, quite a lot of attention has been given to the chemical compounds known as fluorides – particularly to their addition to municipal water supplies as an aid in the prevention of dental decay in those drinking from them. Jacksonville’s and most surrounding towns’ water supplies are fluoridated.
Fluorides are a group of chemicals formed by the combination of fluorine gas with other chemicals to form more stable, solid materials. For the fluoridation of public water supplies, the three most commonly used fluorides are sodium fluoride, sodium fluorosilicate and fluorosilicic acid. These additives meet safety standards established by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). The safe use of fluorides is addressed in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 which is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Our knowledge of fluoride’s beneficial effects on teeth dates back to the early 1900s and not surprisingly a renowned Jacksonville dentist, G.V. Black (known in dentistry as America’s ‘Father of Modern Dentistry’), figures prominently in the story. Around the year 1900 a young dentist by the name of Frederick McKay opened a dental practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Soon after, Dr. McKay began to notice that many of the local residents had unsightly brown stains on their teeth. Searching for an explanation for this discoloration, Dr. McKay could find no prior history of this common, local condition. At this point Dr. McKay began a correspondence with Dr. Black, then the Dean of Northwestern University’s College of Dentistry in Chicago eventually convincing Dr. Black to join him in studying this condition which they later termed enamel mottling. Drs. Black and McKay wrote detailed descriptions of enamel mottling, theorizing that something in the local water supply was responsible for its occurrence but were unable to determine the cause, lacking modern diagnostic equipment that could identify the source of the mottling within the teeth’s structure. They did realize that people with mottled enamel had practically no dental decay and that there were several areas around the country with similar situations. It was not until the early 1930s that they were able to determine that the common component found in the water supplies of these communities with mottled teeth was high levels of naturally occurring fluoride. Once the source of these people’s cavity resistance was determined much research went into determining whether fluorides could be used safely for the prevention of cavities in all people. The results of these tests were very positive and in January of 1945, Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first community to realize the benefits of a water supply that was fluoridated for the prevention of dental decay. Now the majority of community water supplies are fluoridated. Water fluoridation was hailed by the Center for Disease Control as one of the top ten great public health achievements of the 20th century and it continues to be the most cost-efficient methods of fighting dental decay.
Fluoride in your water works in two ways to prevent cavities. Fluorides have a very strong attraction to calcium in teeth so when you drink fluoridated water the fluoride actually is built into the mineral structure of teeth forming a mineral complex that is more resistant to cavity acids. Fluoride also bathes the teeth and is secreted in saliva to remineralize the outer layers of tooth, which have been damaged by cavity acids, making them stronger as well. Having practiced for 30 years, I can almost always tell when a child has not been raised on fluoridated water- they almost always have more cavities. While there are other ways to apply fluoride to the teeth, they are all much less cost-efficient than fluoridated water.
Many people have tried to blame fluoridated water for a whole host of problems including neurological problems, cancer, reproductive effects, Alzheimer’s disease, Downs Syndrome, heart disease and many others. Fortunately, all of these issues have been disproven or shown to have no grounds in truth at all.
So what can you do if your water is not fluoridated? (By the way, bottled water and home water filtered by reverse osmosis do not contain fluoride.) Fluoride vitamins are available by prescription from your dentist. Also, fluoride rinses and professionally applied fluoride treatments can be helpful in preventing decay. Talk to your dentist or visit the website www.mouthhealthy.org to learn more about fluoridation. Thanks for reading.