Active Citizen: Fluoridated Water

Should you be concerned?

| March/April 2000


It’s more toxic than lead, Alar, FD&C Red No. 3, and only slightly less toxic than arsenic—and it’s found in most people’s drinking water.

However, this well-known toxin isn’t in the water by accident. In 1945, U.S. municipalities began treating public water supplies with fluoride compounds in a process called fluoridation. Proponents of fluoridation claim that it’s a low-cost way to vastly improve Americans’ dental health.

In 1992, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 62 percent of the U.S. population connected to public water supplies received fluoridated water. Efforts to fluoridate water in new communities continue—but so does the debate.

Researchers have warned that intake of too much fluoride can cause skeletal and dental fluorosis (severe weakening of the bones, muscles, joints, and tooth enamel), bone fractures, and lethal poisoning. Proponents of fluoridation argue that the amount of fluoride in drinking water supplies is kept well below harmful levels. However, fluoride accumulates in human tissues—and humans ingest fluoride from other sources. Critics say that the combined amount of fluoride from toothpaste, pesticide residues, and fluoridated water may be exposing millions of Americans to potentially toxic levels of fluoride.

Support for fluoridation

Many professional medical and scientific organizations, including the American Dental Association (ADA), endorse fluoridation. Both the CDC and ADA report that fluoride promotes good dental health. In addition to directly inhibiting the production of cavity-causing acids by the bacteria in plaque, fluoride is incorporated into tooth enamel, fortifying it and enabling enamel to repair itself more quickly.

The ADA states that in addition to the prevention of tooth decay, fluoridation “prevents needless infection, pain, suffering, and loss of teeth; improves the quality of life; and saves vast sums of money in dental treatment costs.” The CDC estimates that for every dollar spent on fluoridation, eighty dollars in dental treatment costs are avoided.

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