Water fluoridation – once considered one of the 20th century’s greatest accomplishments in public health – is now admitted to be a cause for concern by U.S. government officials, dentists and scientific researchers, alike.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced, last Friday, plans to lower the amount of fluoride in drinking water after recent scientific research revealed an increase in levels of fluorosis in young children. Fluorosis is a condition characterized by tooth streaking or spottiness due to excessive fluoride consumption; in most cases it is mild and hardly noticeable, and poses little cause for concern, but in extreme cases, teeth may actually be pitted by the mineral. While fluoride has been found to reduce the risk of cavities, too much of it can lead to dental fluorosis, or worse, skeletal fluorosis, a condition characterized by brittle bones, increased bone fractures and crippling bone defects. (For more information on the water fluoridation controversy, see our most recent article, “All About Water Fluoridation” – a comprehensive collection of educational resources centered on the issue of fluoride in drinking water.)
Fluoride ingestion also occurs when toothpaste is swallowed. Though most children swallow minimal amounts while brushing, over time it adds up. Fluoride may also be found naturally in certain foods. Health officials are finally recognizing that the mineral is more accessible now than it was when water fluoridation first began; adding it to municipal drinking water supplies, therefore, may not be as necessary as was once thought. Fluoride is now being called “too much of a good thing.” (You know the saying… “everything in moderation… even moderation.”)
The standard amount for fluoride in drinking water, since 1962, has been a range of 0.7 ppm in warmer climates to 1.2 ppm in colder climates where less water is consumed. The new standard would be set at 0.7 ppm regardless of climate. The maximum allowable amount of fluoride is currently 4 ppm. The EPA is reviewing whether to lower this number; however, opponents of fluoridation claim that even 2 ppm is too much.
While water fluoridation may have been a success in the 20th century, the 21st century may soon announce a new victory – the reduction of fluoride in municipal drinking water – a policy that will enable us to live longer, healthier lives; and when we finally do see our graves – an inevitable fate caused by none other than old age – we will do so while flashing a healthy, white, unspotted toothy smile.
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