Fluoride in drinking water can be a hot topic of conversation. Because of this, you may have heard arguments for and against it being added to the drinking water, or maybe you have not heard anything at all. If you are like me, you may have found yourself googling the answer to this question during your child’s pediatrician or dental visit. Here in Oregon, only 21.9% of the population lives in an area where fluoride is added to the water. Nationally, this puts us as the third lowest-ranking state for community fluoridation levels. It is important to know if you have fluoride in your water so that you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family.

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a mineral naturally found in dirt, soil, and water. The amount of fluoride in the water depends on where the water comes from (higher levels can be found in groundwater and natural springs). Fluoride is commonly added to drinking and bottled water, toothpaste, mouthwash, and dietary supplements. This is similar to how other vitamins and minerals are added to food, such as bread and cereal.

Why Is Fluoride Important?

Fluoride is important because it can protect teeth from decay and prevent cavities from forming. Fluoride strengthens the tooth’s outer surface (enamel), which creates a barrier against sugar and bacteria that cause cavities. The amount of fluoride naturally found in drinking water is not enough to provide this protection. Adding fluoride to the water or community fluoridation ensures there is enough fluoride in the water to protect our teeth. Below are some additional facts about the safety and effectiveness of community fluoridation:

  • Fluoridation of drinking water reduces tooth decay by 25% in children and adults.
  • Having fluoride in drinking water at or below the recommended level (0.7mg/L) is not toxic, based on the current research and evidence.
  • Dental fluorosis (a change in the way teeth look related to high fluoride intake) is generally not dangerous; it has no impact on the tooth function and may provide increased protection against cavities. 

The History of Community Fluoridation

The history of community fluoridation dates back to the early 1900s when a dentist in Colorado began noticing brown stains on his patient’s teeth. In the 1930s, research was evolving, and a new study started looking at the epidemiology of fluorosis. This involved looking at what level of fluoride in the water protected teeth without causing side effects. By 1945, the first US city, Grand Rapids, Michigan, added fluoride to its drinking water. They found that the rate of cavities in children had been reduced by 60 percent. 

Making Your Own Informed Decisions about Fluoride 

As parents, it can be difficult to navigate health information and make the best decisions for our children. While the benefits of fluoride have been studied and monitored over the past 70 years, many of us in Oregon still do not have fluoride in our water. We are left with the decision of whether or not to supplement fluoride into our children’s diet. If you are concerned about your child’s oral health or the amount of fluoride they are receiving, check with your pediatrician or dentist for more information.

If you would like to find out if you have fluoride in your water, you can check here.