The federal government on Monday lowered its standard for how much of the chemical compound fluoride should be in tap water.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made final its new recommendation that the optimal amount of fluoride in public water supplies is 0.7 milligrams per liter of water.
The new rule replaces a 53-year-old recommendation that allowed for a range of fluoride in water, from 0.7 milligrams to 1.2 milligrams per liter.
The department took up a review of the fluoride standard four years ago because Americans have increased access to sources of fluoride in toothpaste and mouth rinses, HHS said.
People who had the higher level of fluoride in their water, combined with the other sources, showed increasing prevalence of fluorosis, a spotting of tooth enamel, HHS said.
The new recommended level will maintain the protective decay prevention benefits of water fluoridation and reduce fluorosis, HHS said.
“While additional sources of fluoride are more widely used than they were in 1962, the need for community water fluoridation still continues,” said U.S. Deputy Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak. “Community water fluoridation continues to reduce tooth decay in children and adults beyond that provided by using only toothpaste and other fluoride-containing products.”
Most dental experts support adding fluoride to water supplies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drinking water with the proper level of fluoride will reduce 25 percent of dental cavities over a person’s lifetime.
The tighter recommendation “validates and clarifies” the pro-fluoridation position, said Jim Schulz, director of Governmental and Public Affairs for the New Jersey Dental Association.
Adding fluoride to water “continues to be necessary to preserve and improve oral health,” he said.
But adding fluoride to public water supplies is a highly contentious issue, nowhere more so than in New Jersey. The state is 49th in the United States for having 14.6 percent of its residents served by community water supplies with fluoridated water. Only Hawaii has a lower percentage of residents supplied with fluoridated water.
Township officials in East Brunswick this year said they want to get fluoride out of their water. Mayor David Stahl pledged to end fluoridated water in East Brunswick, calling it “mass medication.”
Carol Kopf, media director for the anti-fluoride Fluoride Action Network, said more states should follow New Jersey’s example.
By removing the range of acceptable levels of fluoride in water, Kopf said, federal officials are acknowledging they exposed people to too much of the chemical compound.
“Now all of a sudden it’s not safe,” she said.
While East Brunswick may eliminate fluoride – and save around $70,000 a year in the process – state senators Joseph F. Vitale of Middlesex County and Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County reintroduced a bill earlier this year to require fluoride treatment for all public water systems in the state.
Schulz said the association supports the bill. The measure says adding fluoride would not be mandated in any water supply that reaches the level of 0.7 milligrams per liter naturally.