Lowering the amount of fluoride in drinking water, as proposed in January by the Food and Drug Administration, will increase medical expenses and harm the poor and the poorly educated the most, a mother writes in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
Jane E. Brody delves into the concept of fluoridation, pointing out its benefits. "In the early years, rates of tooth decay among the young dropped by 60 percent in communities that adopted fluoridation," she writes. "Every $1 invested in fluoridation saves approximately $38 in dental treatment costs."
Though fluoride was initially thought to become incorporated into developing teeth, it was later found that its benefit is topical, meaning it works on teeth already formed. "Fluoride, which is present in saliva and concentrates in dental plaque, inhibits the action of acid on tooth minerals," she writes. "It also promotes remineralization by sticking to tooth surfaces, where it attracts calcium ions present in saliva."
Still, there remains controversy about whether or not fluoride is safe, with the substance being accused of causing everything from heart disease to Alzheimer's disease. "None of these supposed risks has ever been established in scientifically valid studies," Brody writes. "The only proven risk, a condition called fluorosis, which results in white and sometimes brownish markings on the teeth from too much fluoride, rarely results from a normal intake of fluoridated water."
Since fluoride is also available in other substances, like toothpaste, the FDA proposed reducing the amount of fluoride in public drinking water to 0.7 milligrams per liter, from a range from 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams. Brody feels the move is a mistake: "Fluoridation confers the greatest benefit to those who need it most: the poor and poorly educated and those with limited access to regular dental care," she writes. "In the years ahead, removal of fluoride from drinking water will almost certainly cost taxpayers millions of dollars in increased Medicaid expenditures." (Read more)
In Kentucky, there is 100 percent fluoridation in public drinking water systems, though perhaps half a million residents get their water from wells, springs or cisterns.