Remember when you received fluoride treatments as a child? You sat in the dentist’s chair, and he put that retainer in your mouth. It was filled with a gel that tasted a little odd. Well, it turns out that adults may benefit from fluoride too – no, not fluoride treatments at the dentists. Water fluoridation. Water fluoridation is pretty common in many areas of the U.S. and in other developed nations around the world.
Now there is more research that suggests that fluoridation may help protect adult teeth from tooth decay. That’s good news if you regularly visit places like Smile Cliniq Dentist. It means less intensive cleanings are required, and lower risk of having to have your teeth extracted.
Fluoride has been used for a long time in topical and systemic therapy to prevent tooth decay. You find the substance in everything from mouthwashes to toothpastes to drinking water. Fluoride is an amazing substance. It’s the reduced form of fluorine when as an ion and when bonded to other elements. Usually, you see this substance as sodium fluoride in dental products. Sodium fluoride is a salt.
Fluoride salts are used to enhance the strength of teeth by the formation of fluorapatite, a naturally occurring component of tooth enamel. This fluorapatite is a mineral – a hard, crystalline solid structure. It’s naturally synthesized in a two-step process. First, calcium phosphate is generated by joining calcium and phosphate salts. The resulting material then reacts with fluoride (i.e. calcium fluoride) to create fluorapatite.
When used in dental products, the fluoride comes in contact with the teeth. It reduces the rate of tooth enamel demineralization caused by pathogenic bacteria in the mouth while simultaneously remineralizing teeth by forming the fluorapatite compound on the surface of the tooth. Technically, this doesn’t prevent cavities, but it does radically slow their growth.
None of this is controversial. However, adding fluoride to the water supply is (at least, is has been in the past).
Fluoride in Drinking Water
Today, two-thirds of the U.S. population drink water that is fluoridated. However, it wasn’t always that way. Historically, water fluoridation began in the U.S. in the 1940s after researchers studied the effects of children in a region where water was naturally fluoridated. The stated claim is that water fluoridation helps prevent tooth decay, but research has often been scarce on the long-term effects of fluoridation until now.
The New Study
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Adelaide, Australia, show strong evidence that fluoride in drinking water provides dental health benefits to adults. Even if those adults hadn’t been exposed to fluoridated water as children, this research shows that adults will benefit by drinking fluoridated water now.
This is the first population-level study of its kind. It shows that water fluoridation prevents tooth decay for all adults. The research is led by UNC School of Dentistry faculty member Gary Slade. According to Slade, “It was once thought that fluoridated drinking water only benefited children who consumed it from birth. Now we show that fluoridated water reduces tooth decay in adults, even if they start drinking it after childhood. In public health terms, it means that more people benefit from water fluoridation than previously thought.”
Researchers looked at national survey data that was comprised of 3,779 adults aged 15 and older. The population was selected at random from Australia between 2004 and 2006. The researchers analyzed levels of tooth decay and study participants reported where they lived since 1964.
The participants’ historical residencies were matched to information about fluoride levels in associated community water supplies. The researchers then figured out the participants’ lifetime exposure to fluoridated water.
The results were published in the Journal of Dental Research. They show that adults who spent more than 75 percent of their lifetime in fluoridated areas had significantly less tooth decay than adults who spent less than 25 percent of their lifetime in such communities.
This is a groundbreaking discovery since most of the world does not have fluoridated water. Indeed, it’s most common in the U.S. In the rest of the world, only 5.7 of the population has fluoridated water. This may help the push by public health officials to fluoridate more of the world’s water supply.
For the remaining non-fluoridated communities in Australia, the U.S., and the rest of the world, the clock may be ticking. This latest study may be the trigger for full fluoridated municipal water supplies. If that happens, Americans and Australians might see improved dental health and less frequent visits to the dentist’s office. What about fluoridated water for the rest of the world? Well, that depends on the governments of the countries that don’t have fluoridation. There’s still the cost factor to consider, and distribution may not be economical for undeveloped countries.
For those opposed to fluoridated water, this study may be the nail in the coffin of counterarguments. Kay Roberts-Thomson, a co-author of the study, says, “At this time, when several Australian cities are considering fluoridation, we should point out that the evidence is stacked in favor of long-term exposure to fluoride in drinking water. It really does have a significant dental health benefit.”
While the research is in, don’t get too excited about fluoridated water and don’t abandon your morning and evening brushing routines. No action has been taken by many municipalities yet. For now, you’ll still get a healthy dose of fluoride from dental products like toothpaste and mouthwashes – which is good since fluoride is most beneficial when it’s used in the mouth.