For 75 years, people in the United States have been drinking water with added fluoride and enjoying the benefits of better dental health.
Fluoride is a mineral which naturally exists in all bodies of water — lakes, rivers, groundwater, and even oceans. In some areas of Idaho, the natural level of fluoride in water is enough to reduce the risk of tooth decay (cavities). Other areas need to add a little more fluoride to reach the optimal amount of 0.7 mg/L (milligrams of fluoride per liter). This process is called community water fluoridation. When drinking water contains the optimal level of fluoride, it helps to prevent cavities in teeth. Health experts say fluoridation reduces cavities by 25%. Keeping our teeth healthy means we can eat, speak, and smile with confidence.
Both adults and children benefit from water fluoridation. Optimally fluoridated water strengthens the outer layer of teeth called enamel. Optimal fluoride levels make the enamel more resistant to the acidic damage which can lead to a cavity. Fluoride works best when small amounts are present inside the mouth to bathe the teeth throughout the day. Besides drinking glasses of water, adults, and children can receive the benefits of optimally fluoridated water from consuming other foods and beverages made with fluoridated water.
Fluoride toothpaste is not a replacement for fluoridated water. Both are proven to reduce the rate of tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that the fluoride in water and toothpaste “provide important and complementary benefits.”
Fluoridation promotes health equity. Tap water is widely accessible and inexpensive. Optimally fluoridated drinking water is a good way to provide a layer of prevention to everyone, regardless of their age or income level. A report by the National Institutes of Health praises the impact of fluoridation because it “not only benefits the entire population but disproportionally benefits economically vulnerable groups” within a community.
The leading health, medical and dental organizations support water fluoridation. These experts include the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Does your water have the recommended amount of fluoride — 0.7 mg/L? Finding the answer depends on where you and your family get your drinking water.
- Public water: If a community water system serves your home, check your water quality report to find out. This report should be available online from your water provider.
- Private well water: Private wells are not regulated, so if you draw your drinking water from a private well, it is important to test the well water to know what is in it. A test will tell you how much fluoride is present in your well water. It will also tell you whether arsenic or other contaminants may be present.