What is Fluoride?

fluorideWhat is fluoride?

Fluoride is the name given to a group of compounds that are composed of fluorine and one other elements. Fluorides are present naturally in water and soil at different levels.
In the 1940s, scientists became aware that people living near drinking water supplies had naturally occurring fluoride levels of approximately 1 part fluoride per million parts water or greater had fewer dental cavities.  Many  studies over the past 70 years have supported this finding (1).
It was later found that fluoride can prevent and even reverse tooth decay by hindering bacteria that produce acid in the mouth.  It also boost remineralization, the process through which tooth enamel is “rebuilt”” after it begins to decay (1, 2).
In addition to building up in teeth, ingested fluoride accumulates in bones. Moderate amounts prevent dental caries (cavities),  but long-term ingestion of large amounts can lead to potentially severe skeletal problems.  The control of drinking-water quality is therefore critical in preventing fluorosis and only providing help for dental cavities.

What is water fluoridation?

Water fluoridation is the process of adding fluoride to the water supply so the level reaches approximately 0.7 ppm, or 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water; this is the optimal level for preventing tooth decay (1).
Fluoridating the water began in 1945 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They adjusted the fluoride content of its water supply to 1.0 ppm and thus became the first city to implement community water fluoridation. By 2008, more than 72 percent of the U.S. population served by public water systems had access to fluoridated water (3).
More than 70 years of scientific research has consistently shown that an optimal level of fluoride in community water is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay by at least 25% in both children and adults. Simply by drinking water, Americans can benefit from fluoride’s cavity protection whether they are at home, work or school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named community water fluoridation one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Where can people find additional information on fluoridated water?

The CDC has information on standards for and surveillance of current fluoridated water supplies in the United States.The Environmental Protection Agency can provide more information about drinking water and health, including details about drinking water quality and safety standards.
Selected References
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public Health Service report on fluoride benefits and risks.JAMA 1991; 266(8):1061–1067. [PubMed Abstract]
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Achievements in public health, 1900–1999: fluoridation of drinking water to prevent dental caries. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1999; 48(41):933–940.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (August 2010). 2008 Water Fluoridation Statistics. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  4. Bucher JR, Hejtmancik MR, Toft JD, et al. Results and conclusions of the National Toxicology Program’s rodent carcinogenicity studies with sodium fluoride. International Journal of Cancer 1991; 48(5):733–737.[PubMed Abstract]
  5. Committee to Coordinate Environmental Health and Related Programs, Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Fluoride (February 1991). Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks. Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  6. National Research Council, Subcommittee on Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride. Carcinogenicity of fluoride. In: Health Effects of Ingested Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.
  7. Kim FM, Hayes C, Williams PL, et al. An assessment of bone fluoride and osteosarcoma. Journal of Dental Research 2011; 90(10):1171–1176.

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