Why is fluoridated water good for your teeth?
Fluoridated water was first introduced in Beaconsfield, Tasmania in 1953 to improve oral health and help prevent tooth decay. Nowadays, approximately 92% of Australians have access to fluoridated water. It has since been recognised as one of the most beneficial public health programs to be undertaken in Australia over the last 50 years.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Australia’s fluoridation program. There are advocacy groups that strongly protest the addition of fluoride to our drinking water for a number of reasons, including a range of health issues and the right to choose “non-medicated” water over fluoridated water.
While there is insufficient clinical evidence that shows how drinking water containing fluoride – at 1 part per million – can be harmful to human health, there is a wealth of research showing its oral health benefits, especially for a child’s developing tooth structure.
Fluoride occurs naturally in water
Flouride is a naturally occurring mineral found in all types of water – from fresh water to sea water. Its concentration depends on what rocks and minerals it has filtered through.
For example, Portland and Port Fairy in Victoria already have naturally occurring fluoride in their water supply at optimal amounts ranging from 0.7 to 1.0 parts per million – approximately the same concentration found in fluoridated water produced for the rest of Australia.
The benefits of fluoridated water
In 2015, Cochrane reviews – recognised internationally as the source of the highest standard, most up-to-date and reliable evidence-based health research – published a review of studies on the effects of fluoridated water on oral health.
Here’s what they found in children living in areas supplied with fluoridated water:
- 35% less decayed, filled or missing primary teeth
- 15% more children had no decay in their primary teeth
- 14% more children with no decay in their adult teeth
Adults benefitted from fluoridated water as well. University of Adelaide researchers discovered that adults living in fluoridated areas for 75%+ of their lifetime, experienced up to 30% less decay than adults who had lived in the same areas for less than 25% of their lifetime.
These findings show conclusively that drinking fluoridated water really does have significant oral health benefits.
How much fluoride is too much?
It is important to note that an excessive long term intake of fluoride – over 4 parts per million – may lead to adverse health conditions including fluorosis, a cosmetic oral condition that causes discolouration spots on children’s teeth. However, these high levels are not possible from drinking fluoridated water alone, and other contributing factors need to be taken into account. For example, swallowing fluoride toothpaste regularly can elevate fluoride levels in a child’s body.
If in doubt, consult with your dentist who can check you and your family for any signs of an inadequate and/or excessive intake of fluoride.
- Iheozor-Ejiofor Z, Worthington HV, Walsh T, O’Malley L, Clarkson JE, Macey R, Alam R, Tugwell P, Welch V, Glenny A. Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental caries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD010856. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010856.pub2
- D. Slade, A. E. Sanders, L. Do, K. Roberts-Thomson, A. J. Spencer. Effects of Fluoridated Drinking Water on Dental Caries in Australian Adults. Journal of Dental Research, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0022034513481190