Is fluoride in water a good thing?

Do you trust your tap water? People are naturally concerned about what they put in their bodies, and most municipalities treat their drinking water with various chemicals - including fluoride. Yet despite the fact that about 75 percent of U.S. communities now add fluoride to water, some places still resist it. For example, voters in Portland, Ore., rejected a measure in 2013 that would have added fluoride to their water supplies.

Is the presence of fluoride in your water something you need to be concerned about? No. In fact, fluoride in water at low doses has major health benefits and can help protect your teeth.

Public Health Breakthrough

Conventional wisdom and scientific studies say that fluoride in water is a good thing. Numerous studies have shown that it can prevent and control tooth decay, helping to keep you healthy and saving you money on dentist visits.

“Water fluoridation continues to be the most cost-effective, equitable and safe means to provide protection from tooth decay in a community,” then-Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said in 2004. “Water fluoridation is a powerful strategy in our efforts to eliminate differences in health among people and is consistent with my emphasis on the importance of prevention.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluoridation is one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. In fact, the CDC claims, every dollar spent on fluoridation saves $38 in dental costs!

Grand Rapids Michigan was the first town to fluoridate the water supply in 1945, and many other cities soon joined in. About 210 million people get the chemical in their every-day drinking water,  added at one part per million or less.

Fluoride actually exists naturally in ground water already, so in some cases (if levels are higher than one-in-a-million), treatment plants dilute the water to reduce the level of the chemical.

Backlash Against Fluoride

So why is the fluoridation controversial? There are multiple advocacy groups that speak out against fluoride in water.

Some groups claim – in spite of the overwhelming data - that fluoride doesn't prevent cavities. Others worry about dental fluorosis, a permanent staining of young children's teeth that occurs when they consume too much of the chemical. To prevent fluorosis, dentists recommend that children use only a pea-size dollop of toothpaste, in case they swallow it, and to not let children under six use mouthwash that contains fluoride for the same reason.

However, if you are still worried and do decide you want to remove fluoride from your drinking water, you have various options. You can install reverse osmosis, deionizing or activated alumina filters on your faucets. You could also use a water distiller, or purchase spring water that doesn't have fluoride in it. Just be sure to make an extra  effort with your oral hygiene.

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