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Community Water Fluoridation: Water That’s Good for Your Teeth

By Emily Chen, Harvard School of Dental Medicine

If you had to list all reasons that drinking water is good for you, what would you say? Your list would be long, but it might be missing one thing: Drinking water, especially water with fluoride, is great for your teeth.

What is fluoride, and what does it have to do with our teeth?

Fluoride is a mineral found in nature and in your bones and teeth. A tooth is made of minerals that make it hard and strong. Decay forms when these minerals are broken down by acid from germs in your mouth. The acid makes the tooth weaker and softer. This is where fluoride comes in. Fluoride can stop minerals from leaving your teeth and helps build teeth up stronger than they were before. That’s why you should use toothpastes that have fluoride.

Let’s talk about community water fluoridation.

Community water fluoridation is a process that adds an exact amount of fluoride to the public water supply to help prevent tooth decay. This means that the water from your kitchen or bathroom sink helps protect your teeth. Communities all over the United States have had water fluoridation for a long time. Grand Rapids, Mich., was the first city in the world to add fluoride to its water in 1945. Since then, experts have studied the effects of community water fluoridation and found:

  • Children who have access to water with fluoride have fewer cavities than children who live in areas without water with fluoride.
  • Drinking water with fluoride as a child is linked with fewer teeth lost as an adult.
  • Community water fluoridation helps to keep all people’s teeth healthy, especially for people who may not be able to afford dental care.

The best part of having fluoride in your drinking water is that you don’t have to do anything special to benefit from it. Whether you drink the water or use it to make food, the fluoride will act like a shield and protect your teeth.

Is community water fluoridation safe?

We know through so many years of studying community water fluoridation that it is both safe for your body and great for your teeth. Studies have not found harms associated with the levels of fluoride found in communities with water fluoridation.

Is there community water fluoridation where you live?

You can find out with this guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you live in a place with community water fluoridation, you’ll get the protective benefits of fluoride from drinking the local water. Bottled water often does not contain fluoride. Drinking water with fluoride is a safe, low-cost and simple way to help prevent tooth decay. Just like dentists tell you to brush and floss, health organizations like the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend community water fluoridation. So, if you’re feeling thirsty, why not get some water from the kitchen tap?

References

Horowitz HS. The Effectiveness of Community Water Fluoridation in the United States. J Public Health Dent. 1996;56(5):253-258.

Ripa LW. A Half-century of Community Water Fluoridation in the United States: Review and Commentary. J Public Health Dent. 1993;53(1):17-44.

Neidell M, Herzog K, Glied S. The Association Between Community Water Fluoridation and Adult Tooth Loss. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(10):1980-1985.

Pollick H. Community Water Fluoridation Benefits US Children From Poor Families More Than Those From More Affluent Families. J Evid-Based Dent Pr. 2019;19(2):213-216.

Friedman JW. Debunking Debating Water Fluoridation. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(2):211.