Fluoridation of municipal drinking water has aroused some controversy from its beginnings in 1945. There is no doubt high concentrations of fluoride are toxic to the human body. But it’s important to remember that the toxicity of any material depends on the dose amount and the exposure duration. In the case of municipal water fluoridation, the overwhelming weight of evidence shows the current recommended dose – 0.7* part per million (ppm) – to be safe. The measurement unit of ppm is one part substance per million parts of water. One ppm is equivalent to a half gallon jug of water in an Olympic-size pool.
Des Moines Water Works’ source water (the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, and shallow groundwater under river influence) contains fluoride naturally, usually between 0.1 and 0.5 part per million (ppm). The addition of fluoride to Des Moines Water Works’ drinking water is monitored every minute of every day by DMWW staff, so that the proper amount of fluoride is always maintained in the drinking water delivered to your home.
Des Moines Water Works and the water industry continue to examine and react to new research. But at the current time, the weight of evidence overwhelmingly supports continued fluoridation of municipal drinking water. Fluoridation of municipal drinking water is endorsed by:
- American Dental Association
- American Medical Association
- American Heart Association
- American Cancer Society
- American Water Works Association
- Centers for Disease Control
Every U.S. Surgeon General and every sitting President since Kennedy have publicly endorsed fluoridation. As the Centers for Disease Control has recognized, municipal drinking water fluoridation is one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century. We know good dental health is important to our overall physical well being. Good teeth enable us to eat a healthy diet throughout our life and into old age, helping lengthen our lifespan.
Fluoridation opponents like to say that only a handful of countries fluoridate their water, most notably the US and countries of the former British Empire. This is not accurate.
- Fluoridated countries: USA, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, UK, and Vietnam.
- Countries where natural fluoridation provides adequate benefit: Argentina, France, Gabon, Libya, Mexico, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, USA, and Zimbabwe.
- Countries/areas with fluoride levels above therapeutic levels: Africa, China, India.
Much controversy has been made of the fact that most western European countries do not fluoridate their water, and their rate of tooth decay is similar to the USA. What they don’t say: Many of these countries (plus Japan) once had fluoridated water, but discontinued fluoridation at some point. Discontinuation was almost always accompanied by intervening strategies: widespread use of sealants and topical fluoride treatments that kept decay rates similar to the U.S. It is important to point out that nearly all these countries had some sort of nationalized medical care which gave their citizens easy access to these interventionist strategies once water fluoridation was stopped. Notably, Germany and France both replaced water fluoridation with fluoridated salt. Many other European countries also fluoridate salt. So the arguments about Western Europe really don’t hold much water (pun intended)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are there side effects to fluoride?
Excess amounts of fluoride can be harmful to teeth and bones. Many people of the early American West had brown-stained teeth because they were consuming spring and mineral water with extremely high amounts of fluoride. It is also thought that infants should not consume fluoride in amounts greater than that found in breast milk. For this reason, the American Dental Association recommends that infant formula be prepared with unfluoridated water.
What if I’m pregnant or have an infant?
The American Dental Association makes these recommendations regarding infants and fluoride:
- Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends human milk for all infants (except for the few for whom breastfeeding is determined to be harmful).
- For infants who get most of their nutrition from formula during their first 12 months, ready-to-feed formula is preferred over formula mixed with water containing fluoride to help ensure that infants do not get more fluoride than they need.
- Powdered or liquid concentrate infant formula can be mixed with water that is fluoride free or contains low levels of fluoride. These types of water are labeled as purified, demineralized, deionized, distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water. Many stores sell these types of drinking water for approximately $1.00 per gallon.
- Occasional use of fluoridated water should not greatly increase the chance of over-exposure to fluoride for the infant.
- After their first birthday, children can drink fluoridated water because they’ve grown and they weigh more.
- Children under the age of two should not use fluoride toothpaste.
Breast milk is very low in fluoride. Nursing mothers or pregnant women who drink fluoridated water do not pass on significant amounts of fluoride to their child. Avoiding fluoridated water during pregnancy is not necessary. Use of fluoride supplements by the expectant or nursing mother does not benefit the baby. Parents should consult with their dentist or physician if questions or concerns about fluoride exist.
Should I be concerned about Fluoride?
If you have concerns about fluoride, you should discuss this topic with your dentist and doctor. If you wish to eliminate fluoride from your drinking water, home treatment devices are available – primarily reverse osmosis systems. Before buying, make sure the system you are purchasing can remove fluoride.
Want more info on Fluoride, check out our blog series.
*Updated January 7, 2011, due to new fluoride concentration recommendation.