Why some communities adjust the level of fluoride in drinking water

You go to the dentist. (You do love the dentist, don’t you?) The dental hygienist takes out the sharp, terrifying tools and cleans your teeth while happily asking you about your day. Then the dentist comes in, pokes around a bit, and declares you may have a cavity, despite your best efforts to brush seven times a day. Finally, you’re almost done, except for that last little fun part…fluoride!

Fluoride 101

Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in almost all water sources. It is also found in food and beverages, and in tiny amounts in air and soil. It was discovered that it’s pretty handy at preventing tooth decay, which is why your oral health professionals might apply it on your teeth. That’s also why many communities adjust the amount of fluoride to an optimal and safe level in their drinking water, providing community-wide exposure to prevent tooth decay.

Myths and misconceptions

There are differing opinions on the benefits of adjusting the amount of fluoride in our water. It’s true that too much fluoride in the body can cause discoloured teeth in youth. (More on that later.) However, some claim that fluoride can cause brain damage, weakened bones and even certain types of cancer. There are also some experts who maintain that the benefits do not justify the cost.

Science for the win

As usual, science has dispelled the myths and misconceptions. Numerous studies over decades have proven that adjusting fluoride to the optimal level in drinking water prevents tooth decay and is safe for the human body. There is no association between water fluoridation and cancer, brain damage or weakened bones.

The main risk is a minor condition called “dental fluorosis”, which is caused by exposure to too much fluoride as a little kid while your adult teeth are forming. Dental fluorosis can cause small white spots on teeth that have no impact on oral health and are pretty much unnoticeable. It should also be noted that when consumed at extremely high levels for a very long period of time, fluoride may cause a condition called skeletal fluorosis, which causes pain and damage to bones and joints. However, these levels are much higher than what the average Canadian is exposed to daily, and it’s impossible to get skeletal fluorosis from drinking water in Canada--the levels of fluoride are just too low.

In Canada, communities that adjust the amount of fluoride in drinking water do it at a rate of 0.7 milligrams per litre – well below the maximum level of 1.5 mg/L – to protect against possible negative effects. Many studies have shown that levels of tooth decay are lower in communities that adjust the level of fluoride in their water versus communities that don’t. In fact, fluoridating the water can reduce the rate of tooth decay by 25 to 30%.

So the next time you hear someone say water fluoridation is a health risk, don’t believe it. And be happy when you’re cavity-free at your next check-up and the dentist doesn’t have to break out the needle and drill.

Tips on how to improve your oral health

The Canadian Dental Association defines oral health as “a state of the oral and related tissues and structures that contribute positively to physical, mental and social well-being and the enjoyment of life’s possibilities, by allowing the individual to speak, eat and socialize unhindered by pain, discomfort or embarrassment.”

In plain language, that means your mouth is clean, your jaw opens and closes properly, and your teeth are cavity-free, which lets you eat the food you need to be healthy, and keep your great smile!

With that in mind, we’ve asked Canada’s Office of the Chief Dental Officer for some tips on how to keep your mouth in good shape, and to explain how a healthy mouth contributes to your overall health and well-being.

“Oral health can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being, and good oral health can prevent infection and pain. Even more, poor gum condition can contribute to other diseases, such as diabetes,” they advise.

“All of us, as individuals, parents, educators, and communities, have a role to play in promoting good oral health habits. Simple actions such as regular check-ups with an oral health professional, drinking fluoridated water, and reducing our daily intake of sugars – including those sugar sweetened beverages like pops and sport drinks – can really make a difference. It is also essential to brush twice a day (at the very least at bedtime), and to floss daily to minimize the risk of oral health problems and to improve our overall health.”

More dental details

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thirsty for more information on community water fluoridation and how to maintain and improve your oral health. Remember, brush and floss those jibs twice a day!

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