Fluoride and the fluoridation of public water supplies has been a hotly contested issue for decades. On the one hand, public health experts cite many health benefits of fluoride that can be enjoyed simply by drinking tap water in areas where the supply is fluoridated. On the other, opponents suggest that there may be adverse health events as a result of regularly drinking fluoridated water. The other option is to forgo public water supplies altogether and drink fluoride-free bottled water. While some see this as a viable option, others envision a negative impact on dental health, as the rate of cavities and other issues has gone down measurably since public fluoridation was first implemented.
The purpose of fluoride. Fluoride serves two main purposes — preventing tooth decay and aiding in the proper formation of healthy tooth enamel. Research indicates that regularly consuming fluoride may help developing teeth grow strong enamel, while helping ward off cavities in adult teeth.
Fluoride controversy. Opponents of fluoride cite everything from moral grounds regarding forced medication, to potential health risks if you drink a lot of fluoridated water, to supposed mind control effects of high levels of fluoride. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “The safety of fluoride in drinking water at levels recommended for preventing tooth decay has been affirmed by numerous scientific and professional groups. Scientists have found a lack of evidence to show an association between water fluoridation and a negative impact on people, plants, or animals.” To date, though the controversy over fluoridated water still rages, there is little scientific evidence to back up the claims of fluoridation opponents.
Overall effect of drinking bottled water. The most important impact that fluoride has is believed to be on developing teeth, so in children approximately 8 years old and younger, it aids in the development of healthy tooth enamel. However, it is important to know the level of fluoridation in your area, as too much fluoride can cause a condition known as enamel fluorosis. In its milder forms, fluorosis causes mild tooth discoloration. Ask your pediatrician about the proper amount of fluoride your child should be ingesting and when. While not drinking fluoridated water after that point may lead to a higher incidence of cavities, there is no other known negative impact. If you’re not sure whether you want to drink fluoridated water, then opting for bottled water or filtered tap water should have limited negative effects, especially with proper oral care. On the flip side, there is no substantiated evidence of adverse effects if you do decide to drink fluoridated tap water instead of fluoride-free bottled water.