There may be more questions about fluoride — the white knight of cavity prevention — than we’ve assumed over a half-century of fluoridating city water and toothpaste. Last year, the National Research Council (NRC) determined that the level of fluoride allowed in community drinking water is too high. Children who consume the highest level of fluoride permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could actually be damaging their teeth and setting themselves up for health risks including lower IQs and osteoporosis.
The rate of fluorosis, splotchy white or brown stains on the teeth that can sometimes lead to pitting of the tooth enamel, in American children has jumped from 23 percent to 32 percent in the past 20 years. A 2006 Harvard study even suggested a link between fluoridated water and a rare form of cancer in young boys.
Armed with the NRC data, the American Dental Association (ADA) issued a statement last November recommending that parents use non-fluoridated water or water with low-fluoride content for mixing infant formula, to ensure babies don’t receive too much fluoride.
So what’s a parent to do? First of all, relax. Dallas’ city water fluoride levels fall well within the EPA’s recommended range of 0.7 – 1.2 parts per million (ppm). Figures from 2005 show Dallas water averaged 0.5 ppm, with a range of 0.3 – 0.6ppm.
The challenge, of course, is making sure your child isn’t picking up too much fluoride from other sources: toothpaste, dental treatments, foods and drinks made with fluoridated water. Most research shows that fluoride applied topically to teeth is more effective than fluoride ingested in food or liquids. Water is one of the easiest ways to do this, explains Dr. David Hale, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at Dallas’ Baylor College of Dentistry. “The good thing about the fluoridated water is that it’s bathing the teeth each time the child has water to drink,” he says.