There must be something in the water

The good, the bad and the ugly of water fluoridation

Macey VanDenMeerendonk

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Water fluoridation helps prevent and decrease tooth decay and cavities.

You may or may not know that the water you drink is enriched with fluoride, but the question is if it’s necessary and completely safe.

Water fluoridation is the prevention or, in some cases, reversal of tooth cavity formation, which promotes the remineralization of teeth, strengthening their enamel and thus helping them fight off the bacteria that cause decay, according to an article posted by MedicalNewsToday.

According to Harvard public health, this discovery in the early 20th century was considered one of the 10 great public health achievements at that time.

So why is there controversy?

Like any helpful chemical, too much can be hazardous. A high concentration of fluoride can cause fluorosis, which is the changing of tooth enamel that ranges from barely noticeable white spots to staining and pitting, according to Harvard public health.

Stated in the same article by MedicalNewsToday, skeletal fluorosis, which causes pain and damage to bones and joints, damage to the parathyroid gland and neurological problems are some of the harmful effects resulting from excessive fluoride exposure.

Daily Beast stated that before there were anti-vaxxers there were anti-fluoriders. The effects that can occur with over exposure have caused mixed responses. Anti-fluoriders brought up controversy, hysteria, conspiracy theories, reasoned argumentation and bitter municipal friction since 1949.

With all these harmful outcomes that over exposure can cause, it’s hard to believe that the purpose of fluoridation is helpful at all.

The reason fluoridation was initiated to begin with was to reduce the amount of cavities and tooth decay, especially with children.

MedicalNewsToday said that water naturally contains fluoride. The article states that in a Cochrane review published in 2015, it found that when additional fluoride was introduced to water, children had 35 percent fewer decayed, missing or filled baby teeth. There was a 15 percent increase in children with no decay in their baby teeth and the proportion of children with no decay in their permanent teeth rose by 14 percent.

Since the time fluoride was first added to water, toothpastes and dental hygiene products have also started using fluoride to help prevent decay and cavities. While these products help to ensure dental care, it’s not always beneficial for everyone.

According to MedicalNewsToday, many people worldwide cannot afford the cost of regular dental checks, so adding fluoride can offer savings and benefits to those who need them.

While there is still debate on whether fluoride is the best way to prevent dental problems, there has been evidence that the removal of fluoride from water can be harmful.

Concerns with fluoridation led the City Assembly of Juneau to direct the cessation of fluoridation of community water in their area, according to an article from MedicalNewsToday.

The article states that two research teams, one from the College of Health Sciences at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn. and the College of Health at the University of Alaska Anchorage, investigated the effects of this decision on the oral health of young inhabitants in Juneau.

The study showed that the mean number of cavity-related procedures for the zero to 18 year-old age groups was significantly higher in the 2012 treatment group, when community water no longer contained fluoride, than in the 2003 group, before the decision to end water fluoridation.

The article said the odds of a child or adolescent undergoing a dental cavity procedure in 2003 was 25.2 percent less than that of a child or adolescent in 2012.

This suggests that the added fluoride did have a protective effect on oral health, which is missing now that community water supplies no longer go through the fluoridation process, according to MedicalNewsToday.

While there are major pros and cons to water fluoridation, I think the decrease in oral decay, that is shown in studies, is enough to continue the process of it. Fluoride in tap water helps prevent issues with oral health for people who can’t afford dental check ups and, overall, improves dental health for the majority of people.

The American Dental Association said they recommend that community water systems adjust the amount of fluoride to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water.

With regulations, the safe amount of fluoride is beneficial to hygiene health and saves people money that would otherwise be spent on cavity-related procedures. Overall, I think in safe measures water fluoridation is beneficial to people’s health but should be monitored like any other helpful chemical. 

VanDenMeerendonk can be reached at [email protected]