Fluoridating water reduces the incidence of tooth decay by 25 percent nationwide and is heralded as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nevertheless, the practice has been rejected by about 200 jurisdictions over the past four years. So far this year, an additional eleven cities and towns have opted out of fluoridating their drinking water as well, attempting to justify their reasoning (or rather, lack thereof) by citing both budget constraints as well as skepticism about fluoride’s beneficial health effects.

Costing less than $1 per person a year, water fluoridation became an official policy of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1951 and has been shown to effectively prevent tooth decay, especially among children. Seventy-two percent of our population currently benefits from water fluoridation, despite the recent efforts to eliminate this public health process. Even though some argue that the presence of fluoride in toothpaste and mouthwash nowadays obviates the need to continue adding it to water supplies, many who go without regular dental care, especially children, rely on public water fluoridation to obtain adequate protection from cavities.

Yet local governmental officials in Pinellas County in Florida and those residing in Fairbanks, Alaska have decided to discount such vulnerable populations by voting to stop fluoridating their water. However Kenneth T. Welch, a Pinellas County commissioner, condemns his board’s decision; he believes that “political rhetoric won out over science and the best advice of our medical and dental community.”

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees that such misguided regulations are “penny-wise and pound foolish, since fluoridating water has proven to be effective and will save money in the long run.” If governments are looking for ways to save money, he says, “they should not do so at the cost of the dental health of their most vulnerable residents and children.”