Fluoridation of drinking water
“Fluoride has been known to strengthen enamel and help fight tooth decay since the 1940’s. The centre for disease control and prevention in the US has described it as ‘one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century’.” – Dr Duncan Jefferson
What is it about going to the dentist? For me, just thinking about a visit is totally different from, say, going shopping or going to the movies or even going to the Doctor! Maybe it has something to do with the loss of power of speech, because when you have someone’s fist inside your mouth holding an instrument that is making a high pitched scream, it does lessen one’s sense of personal autonomy!
Yet, all the dentists I have met have seemed such happy, cheery fellows, characteristics which belie their occupation. They also work in such bright... extremely bright... facilities, with happy background music, waiting rooms brimming with current magazine issues (all Doctors take note!), and many have well stocked fish tanks! So a visit to the dentist shouldn’t really instill feelings of trepidation and outright fear, and to be quite honest, in the 21st century, with modern techniques and hi-tech equipment, those fears should be rapidly receding into the background.
This is all great news for children born in the 21st century, but for those who are a little ‘longer in the tooth’, I am afraid those ingrained memories might be more difficult to shift. So anything we can do to help reduce potential dental disease should be high up on our personal healthcare agenda.
Here are a couple of obvious things that we can do to protect our teeth:
1. Brush and floss your teeth after each meal to clear away any food debris that might be lodged between your teeth.
2. For many people who have been brushing their teeth for decades it might come as a surprise that you might not be doing it correctly! Using an electric toothbrush will probably improve your brushing technique, but if you’re not sure you’re doing it right, check with your own dentist or have a look at this video.
The other major public health initiative that has reduced the level of dental disease has been fluoridation of our water supplies. Fluoride has been known to strengthen enamel and help fight tooth decay since the 1940’s and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has described it as ‘One of the top 10 Public health achievements of the 20th century’. Water fluoridation occurs when fluoride is directly added to the public water supply in a controlled and monitored way, thus getting into our drinking water and helping our teeth stay strong. This is a cost effective public health initiative as the savings from having healthy teeth far outweigh the costs of adding fluoride to the water supply.
But like most people in our environmentally aware times, when it comes to adding chemicals to our water supply, a certain nervousness creeps into my mind. With increasing frequency I read of chemicals from plastic waste having unwanted hormonal effects on fish and frogs in our waterways. The worry is that if these chemicals are changing the sexual organs of fish and frogs, then what are they doing to humans? However, these are toxic waste chemicals that have leeched into waterways over time, and by monitoring our water supplies with greater zeal we will have safer and better quality water.
Fluoride, however, is not a toxic chemical that has leaked into our water supply. The fluoridation of water has been monitored and researched for over 60 years now and, apart from ‘fluorosis’ (a well-publicised cosmetic problem discussed later), it has been proven safe. The process is applied to water supplies in countries around the world, including the US, the UK and Australia. Like all responsible public health initiatives, fluoridation needs constant monitoring, fine tuning and review - just like our vaccination programs. Challenges to the status quo should not been seen as scare-mongering, but as a chance to make sure that we get our public health programs 100% right.
Fluoridation has been a great success, but it’s not for everyone! In children under the age of 8 whose teeth are still forming, exposure to too much fluoride can lead to white speckling of their baby and adult teeth; a condition known as fluorosis. Even though this is a cosmetic issue only, it might lead to distress and can be easily prevented by reducing the amount of tap water consumed by your infant/child. The recommendation is to not use fluoridated tap water when making up baby formula feeds. For individual advice you should discuss your child’s dental hygiene with your dental nurse or dentist.
Adding fluoride to our water supply is only one step in the pathway to having healthy teeth. We need to make sure that everything else we put in our mouths is healthy too – that means cutting down on sugary drinks. We’ve all seen what those soda drinks can do to a coin when it’s dropped in, so imagine what they can do when the sugar they contain is turned to acid in your mouth and etches your teeth whilst you sleep!
Having healthy teeth will make your life easier and that’s enough to make anyone smile!
Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. For more articles by Dr. Duncan, click here. For more information on healthcare and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.
The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.