Water fluoridation has an image that rises and falls like the tide. One year, it’s being hailed as one of the greatest public health achievements. The next, it’s being accused of causing bone development problems, causing learning disabilities, and being essentially toxic waste disposed of in our water supply. Although there is no evidence that recommended fluoride levels are harmful, there is some truth to the charges leveled by critics that there is perhaps not enough evidence supporting the effectiveness of water fluoridation.
But now a new study is helping to rectify that problem. The study of hundreds of thousands of people in rural Korea shows that water fluoridation can help reduce cavities and the overall cost of dental care.
Fewer Cavities, Fewer Visits, and Lower Costs
This is a long-term study that began in 2003 with a sample of over a million Koreans living in rural communities. Rural communities were selected to allow a more direct comparison between those with fluoridated water and those without–most urban water supplies are fluoridated. They excluded people with previous cavities from the study, since prior cavities increase your risk of future cavities. That left a study population of over 472,000 people.
To determine the potential impact of fluoridation, they looked at the medical and dental records of these patients for the years from 2003 to 2013, an average of nine years of dental records for each patient. That’s over 4 million patient-years worth of records, some serious statistical power!
This study showed that people in areas with fluoridation benefited in terms of cavities. In areas with fluoridation, 46.98% visited a dentist for cavities, compared to 48.66% in areas without fluoridation. That 1.7% was statistically significant for this study.
And the study showed other significant drops: a reduction in dental visits, and a reduction in overall cost of dental care.
Vulnerable Populations Benefited Most
This study was also able to confirm that some of the most vulnerable populations were enjoying the biggest benefits from water fluoridation. Most often, public officials talk about children as being the primary beneficiaries of water fluoridation. This study showed that children benefited, but not as much as some other communities. In particular, the elderly seemed to benefit the most from water fluoridation. In the US, where less than half of senior citizens see their dentist each year, this is a potentially great benefit.
Water fluoridation also showed greater benefits for people who weren’t seeing their dentist regularly for preventive care. As a public health initiative, then, water fluoridation seems like a great strategy for helping people who face barriers to making regular dental checkups.
Fluoridated Water Is Only Part of the Solution
Of course, water fluoridation is only part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring good oral health. Although it can help, it’s clearly only making part of the difference. With our modern diet high in sugars and acidic foods, our teeth are in great danger.
Regular dental checkups are necessary to ensure good dental health. Preventive treatments like dental sealants can also help avoid cavities. And restorative dentistry is vital to stop the progression of decay and erosion while ensuring that teeth remain healthy.
If you are looking for a River Edge dentist to help protect your oral health, please call today for an appointment at the River Edge Dental Center for General & Cosmetic Dentistry.