It’s common to have questions about fluoride, especially when you’re thinking about how to keep yourself and your family healthy. Community water fluoridation is a safe and effective method of preventing tooth decay. It’s also time-tested, free, and readily available to all. This makes it an important tool in our work to promote better health for everyone.
Three things are required for tooth decay to happen: bacteria, sugar for the bacteria to convert to acids that damage teeth, and a susceptible tooth. Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that makes teeth less susceptible to decay. It strengthens teeth and protects them from the acid produced by bacteria found in the mouth.
While cavity-fighting fluoride is available through many sources, fluoridated tap water has major advantages. First, you can get it simply by doing something that is healthy, free, and available to all—drinking water! Second, it combines with saliva to bathe teeth all day long. Third, and most importantly, it makes developing teeth stronger in children.
The safety of community water fluoridation is well-documented. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) also works closely with the state’s public water systems to assure fluoride levels comply with guidance from the U.S. Public Health Service. That level is about 1 part per million. That’s the equivalent of a single grain of salt in a five-gallon bucket of water!
Community water fluoridation is important because the health of your teeth—and your overall oral health—really matter. Dental problems can hurt us in many ways. Children with tooth decay have trouble getting proper nutrition and do not concentrate as well in school. Adults with tooth decay must take time away from work. In addition, those seeking employment for service-sector jobs are often judged by their teeth.
Significant disparities in tooth decay rates exist in Rhode Island and nationally based on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. For example, black children in RI are 50% more likely to have untreated decay, and people of lower socioeconomic status are one-third less likely to have had a dental visit in the last year and more likely to be missing teeth. Community water fluoridation helps promote better health outcomes for all children and adults—regardless of their zip code, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, insurance status, level of education, or income.
What other steps can you take to prevent tooth decay? Brush and floss teeth daily to remove bacteria. Bacteria that has turned into tartar requires professional removal at a dental office, so see a dentist regularly. Since most sugars get converted into acid by bacteria, avoid or reduce sugar-sweetened beverages, and never put a child to bed with a bottle.