This July marks a momentous occasion in the history of oral health in America. It’s the 75th anniversary of public water fluoridation, an action that has no doubt saved Americans from tens of thousands of cavities in the three-quarters of a century since public water fluoridation began. But fluoridating water is not without controversy. In fact, a landmark lawsuit that began in San Francisco aims to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to limit or totally eliminate the amount of fluoride added to public water systems.
Led by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog group, the suit alleges that the amount of fluoride in water currently poses too high a risk for neurological damage in young children and babies, and should be either better regulated or stopped completely. Currently, the EPA sets the fluoride limit at 4ppm. This number allows for some areas in which a high level of naturally occurring fluoride already exists in the water supply.
So, what would this mean for fluoridated water supplies? Currently, an estimated 275 million Americans are on a public water system, with 200 million of those consuming fluoridated water. If Food & Water Watch has its way, those Americans could have their fluoride levels limited or taken away all together.
Dentist Kelley Mingus of Bend, Oregon, says fluoridated water is beneficial to oral health. Many dentists are in agreement that fluoridated water is a good thing, as is the American Association of Dentists.
“Hopefully there can be a resolution to this that works for everyone,” says Mingus, “whether that be coming up with a uniform number for how many ppm of fluoride can be added to water or something short of an all-out fluoride ban.”
That’s because fluoridated water has been shown by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to reduce cavities by 25 percent, something that is extremely beneficial in a country where dental access can be difficult due to location and poverty.
Though many water supplies around the country are fluoridated, Mingus says people who want to limit the amount of fluoridated water they consume can look for fluoride-free bottled water. But eliminating fluoride from their oral health routine entirely is not advisable, he says.
“If you must eliminate fluoride from your water, please use a toothpaste with fluoride or speak to your dentist about suitable alternatives,” Mingus says. “Furthermore, if you do live in an area that does not fluoridate their water and you’d like to up your fluoride intake, speak to your dentist about prescription fluoride tablets or treatments.”