Fluoride in community drinking water provides protection against tooth decay, the most common chronic disease of children.

For more than 60 years, water fluoridation has been proven safe and cost-effective. Research shows community fluoridation continues to reduce tooth decay by up to 40 percent, even in an era where other fluoride sources, like fluoride toothpastes, are readily available.

All community water systems must provide a Consumer Confidence Report on their system’s water quality, including its fluoridation level. The Wisconsin Public Water Supply Fluoridation Census provides a summary of those reports related to the fluoride status of public water systems in Wisconsin. This report indicates nearly 90 percent of the people on public water systems receive fluoridated water.

Despite this high number, many people receive their water from individual wells, which means about 63 percent of Wisconsin’s total population receives fluoridated water.

Optimal fluoride levels for drinking water as recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service range from 0.7 parts per million (ppm) for warmer climates to 1.2 ppm for cooler climates. The differences account for the tendency for people to drink more water in warmer weather.

In Wisconsin, fluoride is adjusted to 1.0 ppm. If your community water is naturally fluoridated it should be above 0.6 parts per million. If your drinking water is from a private well, have it tested for natural fluoride content.

Young families in particular should be aware of fluoride content in their water. Parents should evaluate whether school or daycare water is their child’s primary source of water. Then, talk with your child’s physician to determine whether to supplement with fluoride.

Most delivered and bottled water contains very low amounts of fluoride. Federal laws say the fluoride content must be on the bottle label only if fluoride is added. Some brands contain levels of fluoride that would affect the supplemental dosage prescribed.

Breast milk and formula contain very low amounts of fluoride. An infant on formula can receive fluoride from the water used to mix the formula. Most infant foods contain low levels of fluoride. Foods and juices prepared with fluoridated water will contain fluoride.

However, adding solid foods to an infant’s diet will reduce fluoride absorption to about 60 percent of intake. Changes in feeding patterns may mean that a supplement dose needs adjustment.

Decades of studies show community water fluoridation is not only safe and effective, but it is also the least expensive way to deliver the cavity fighting benefits of fluoride to all residents of a community, children and adults alike.

According to the American Dental Association, an individual can have a lifetime of fluoridated water for less than the cost of one dental filling.

The best source of information on fluoride levels in your public water system is your local water utility. When community fluoridation is not available, fluoride supplements may be the answer.

View a listing of community water systems and their fluoridation status on the “My Water’s Fluoride” webpage at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF.

Beth TenPas, RN, BSN, is a public health nurse for Sheboygan County and chair of the Sheboygan County Dental Access Committee.