drinking water fluoridation and childrens health page



William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.
From The National Council Against Health Fraud web site: www.ncahf.org

Fluoridation means adjusting the fluoride content of water to a concentration of about 1 part fluoride per million parts of water (1 ppm). The word does not refer to natural waterborne fluoride, fluoride toothpastes, mouth rinses, or supplements. The term "adjusting" is appropriate because "adding" would imply putting something in the water that is not already there. Most ground water contains fluoride, but usually not the right amount for optimal effectiveness against tooth decay without fluorosis.

How fluoride's dental benefits were discovered

Dr. Frederick McKay, a dentist who began practicing in Colorado Springs in1901, became concerned about a dental condition known locally as "Colorado brown stain." This is now known to be extreme dental fluorosis, a condition that discolors, disfigures, and weakens the teeth. Nobody knew its cause, but McKay suspected it was something in the water. Unfortunately, the analytical chemistry technology of the era was unable to discern any differences between water samples from regions with or without brown stain. Despite this, McKay persisted with his theory that something in the water was causing brown stain. He convinced the people of Oakley, Idaho, a region also troubled by brown stain, to change from wells to mountain run-off water. In a few years the condition disappeared, providing evidence that his theory was sound. It wasn't until 1931 that Alcoa chemist H.V. Churchill, using the new method of spectrographic analysis, determined that water samples from brown stain areas had up to 14 ppm fluoride. The initial reaction was to ask whether the high fluoride ingestion caused other undesirable effects. Studies of people in the brown-stain regions could find no adverse health effects other than dental fluorosis (although it is known that high levels of fluoride can cause skeletal fluorosis as well). It was eventually determined that lower levels of fluoride protected teeth from decay without objectionable fluorosis. Continued research eventually led to the public health practice of fluoridation.

Why use the public water system?

Fluoride's most important derives from exposure from birth to age 6 when teeth are being formed. Fluoride becomes part of the structure of teeth, making them harder and more acid-resistant. This is called the systemic effect of fluoride. Waterborne fluoride is most effective because this method maintains the most consistent serum levels over time. Fluoride supplements also provide systemic effects, but pills do not maintain as consistent serum levels, are more expensive, and are less likely to be used effectively because pill-taking requires repeated action and supervision. After the teeth are formed, maintaining the serum levels helps supply fluoride needed for teeth and bones to remain healthy. Benefits from brushing with fluoride toothpaste, rinsing with fluoride solutions, or fluoride applications at a dentist's office are called topical effects.

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NCAHF is a private nonprofit, voluntary health agency that focuses upon health misinformation, fraud, and quackery as public health problems. Our positions are based upon the principles of science that underlie consumer protection law. We advocate: (a) adequate disclosure in labeling and other warranties to enable consumers to make truly informed choices; (b) premarketing proof of safety and effectiveness for products and services claimed to prevent, alleviate, or cure any health problem; and, (c) accountability for those who violate the law.


“The fact is that I started out as somewhat skeptical and cautious about fluoridation. But then I became a firm believer as proof was assembled by scientists that fluoridation of a water supply will reduce the production of tooth cavities (our most prevalent disease) by 60%, and, just as important, that no disease or defect is caused by this procedure. What particularly allayed my early doubts about adding a chemical to public water supplies was learning that fluoride has always occurred naturally in water supplies.” Dr. Benjamin Spock
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