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Organization supports recent HHS recommendation to lower fluoride levels
Tooth decay remains a health care problem that touches people of all ages. According to the Pennsylvania Dental Assn., many communities could reduce tooth decay significantly by implementing fluoridation.
Scientific studies over the last 65 years have proved that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe, strengthens teeth and helps prevent cavities by making tooth enamel harder and more resistant to acids, the association said. It is effective in reducing tooth decay by 20% to 40%, even with the high availability of fluoride from other sources such as fluoride toothpaste.
Dr. Linda Himmelberger, a general dentist and former Pennsylvania Dental Assn. president from Devon, Pa., said that fluoride fights cavities in several ways.
"In developing teeth, the fluoride becomes part of the enamel and actually causes it to become denser and stronger so it is more resistant to the acids that are produced by the bacteria that cause decay," Himmelberger said. "Once the teeth are fully formed and present in the mouth, fluoride can be taken in by exposed root surfaces, strengthening them [and] making them more resistant to decay and can even reverse decay that is forming."
Himmelberger stressed that more than 1,000 studies have been done on the safety and benefits of community water fluoridation. "These studies by scientists, nationally and internationally, have demonstrated that fluoride at the recommended levels is both safe and effective for reducing decay and tooth loss," she said.
The association advocates fluoridating for all public water systems. Currently, only 54% of Pennsylvanians are receiving optimally fluoridated water, with rural communities missing the benefits the most. Fifty-one percent of rural children receive regular dental services, compared to 61% of urban children.
Fluoride occurs naturally in all water sources, such as rivers, lakes and oceans. Optimally fluoridating a community water supply raises the natural concentrations of fluoride ions to a range established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The association compaires adding fluoride to water to adding vitamin D to milk and iodine to salt.
HHS recently announced a proposal recommending that water systems practicing fluoridation adjust their fluoride content to 0.7 parts per million (ppm) from the previous temperature-dependent optimal levels ranging from 0.7 to 1.2 ppm.
The original range was based on the concept that people in cooler climates typically drink less water per day than people in warmer climates. Therefore, in coolers areas, a higher fluoride level is required to provide the same dental health benefits. However, research has shown that air temperature does not affect the amount of water people drink.