Tooth decay (dental caries) is a health problem that has plagued humankind for centuries. The damage caused by caries has been an inevitable fact of life for most people. The disease often means many visits to the dentist to have damage and painful teeth repaired or removed. Today, damage caused by tooth decay can be reduced, and in many cases, prevented. This is largely as a result of fluoride.
Fluoride’s benefits for teeth were discovered in the 1930s. Dental scientists observed low decay rates among people whose water supplies contained natural fluoride. Studies conducted during the 1940s and 1950s confirmed that when a small amount of fluoride is added to the community water supply (fluoridation), decay rates among residents of that community decrease. Early studies focused primarily on the benefits of water fluoridation for children, but recent studies demonstrate that decay rates in adults are also reduced as a result of fluoride in the drinking water. Fluoridation benefits people of all ages and backgrounds.
Water fluoridation prevents tooth decay mainly through direct contact with teeth throughout life, but also when consumed by children during the tooth forming years. The most inexpensive way to deliver the benefits of fluoride to all residents of a community is through water fluoridation. All water naturally contains some fluoride. When a community fluoridates its water, it adjusts the level of fluoride in the water to an optimal level for preventing tooth decay. Currently, more than 184 million people in the United States are served by public water supplies containing enough fluoride to protect teeth.
Healthy People 2010, is the plan that sets health goals for the nation for the year 2010. This plan calls for at least 75 percent of the population to be served by optimally fluoridated community water systems. The current level is 69 percent. To reach this goal, public water systems serving approximately 15 million more people should fluoridate their water.
Fluoride from many sources prevents tooth decay. Fluoride can be applied directly to teeth through toothpaste, mouth rinses, professionally applied fluoride treatments available in the dental office and dietary supplements prescribed by a dentist, physician or other health professional. These methods of delivering fluoride are more expensive than water fluoridation and require a conscious decision to use them. However, the widespread availability of fluorides, via water fluoridation, toothpaste, and other sources, has resulted in the steady decline of dental caries throughout the United States.
Date last reviewed: September 1, 2009
Date last updated: September 1, 2009
Content source: Division of Oral Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Page Located on the Web at http://www.cdc.gov/Fluoridation/benefits/background.htm
From cdc.gov 4-16-2010
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