Without limitations on who it can affect, tooth decay remains one of the most prevalent, , yet preventable diseases in our nation. The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) reminds that a safe, effective and economical way to reduce occurrences is through the public health implementation of community water fluoridation.
Nearly all naturally occurring water sources contain fluoride—a mineral that has been proven to prevent, and even reverse, tooth decay. Water fluoridation involves regulating the amount of fluoride in the water to assure that the amount is at a safe and effective level for oral health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declare that based on numerous studies, fluoride at the recommended levels of less than or equal to one part per million is safe, with the most effective cavity fighting level being at 0.7ppm to 1.0ppm.
Documentation of the effectiveness of water fluoridation has been noted in scientific literature for more than 70 years. The American Dental Association (ADA) has stated that even before the first community fluoridation program began in 1945, data from the 1930s and 1940s revealed 50 to 60 percent lower tooth decay rates in children consuming naturally occurring, optimally fluoridated water compared to children consuming fluoride-deficient water.
Extensive research continues to indicate water fluoridation is one of the most effective public health measures in history. It has maintained its effectiveness of reducing tooth decay by at least 25 percent in adults and children, even during an era of wide availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste.
The first step to ensuring all Pennsylvanians have preventive dental care is to fluoridate our public water systems. Adding fluoride to the drinking water ensures that everyone, regardless of age or income, receives valuable health benefits.
“Fluoride protects teeth against decay in two ways,” says PDA member Dr. Alicia Risner-Bauman, who serves on the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention and the Board of Directors of the PA Coalition for Oral Health. “In the tooth structure as the teeth are forming, and in the mouth of children and adults.”
“Fluoride has been shown to be incorporated into the developing tooth structure, making the tooth stronger and less prone to decay or cavities,” Dr. Bauman added. “When fluoride comes in contact with the tooth enamel, the fluoride ion (molecule) can bind with the tooth enamel and promote remineralization, the strengthening of weakened tooth structure.”
Currently, only 54 percent of Pennsylvanians are receiving optimally fluoridated water, with rural communities missing the benefits the most. People who live in these areas are in need of basic oral health care. Fifty-one percent of rural children receive regular dental services, compared to 61 percent of urban children. Community water fluoridation is needed to help improve the oral health and lives of all residents who live in rural Pennsylvania.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proclaimed community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. It is one public health program that actually saves money. The average cost for optimally fluoridating a public water supply is less than the cost of one dental filling. For every dollar invested in fluoridation, a person saves $38 in dental treatment costs. Fluoridation also would save money in the state Medicaid budget.
Dr. Bauman says she sees the ravages of dental decay every day.
“I have treated children and adults who have had access to toothpaste, fluoride supplements and dentally applied fluoride. Unfortunately, these patients have well water or public water that does not have fluoride occurring naturally. Even with access to the other fluoride sources, they still have cavities. Without exposure to water fluoridation, these patients suffer from pain and infection every day, causing loss of time in school, loss of time at work. If we can provide something as simple as a naturally occurring mineral in the drinking water for a portion of the population to help prevent this unnecessary suffering, why would we not?”