Adding the mineral fluoride to drinking water is hailed as one of the biggest public-health breakthroughs of the past century for its ability to minimize tooth decay — but it’s still not a benefit a lot of people in New Jersey are getting.
A new study published last month in the Journal of Dental Research finds that US children and adolescents with greater access to fluoridated drinking water are less likely to get dental cavities.
But New Jersey, whose residents and politicians have a long history of resisting such programs, has among the lowest water fluoridation rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 14 percent of state residents receive fluoridated water, compared to a national average of 72 percent of individuals, according to the NJ Dental Association.
The lower rates mean residents are likely at a big disadvantage, says Dr. Howard Pollick, director of the Dental Public Health residency program at the School of Dentistry at the University of California San Francisco.
“It’s kind of like a magic bullet,” says Pollick. “Without fluoride, we would have a lot more tooth decay, and then we’d really have to focus on getting people to stop eating sugar.”
Fluoride, which can be found naturally in water and soil, has been added to drinking water for about the past 70 years, and is supported by groups such as the CDC and the American Dental Association.
Adding fluoride to water is still controversial, though. Critics point to the risk of fluorosis — a white spotting on tooth enamel — with exposure to too much fluoride, though dentists say it’s rare. Animal studies also suggest that fluoride could be toxic to brain and nerve cells, though not in the amounts typically found in drinking water. Some citizen groups are lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the substance altogether.
But for dentists such as Dr. Mark Vitale, whose practice is in New Jersey, the benefits far outweigh these concerns, especially in socioeconomically challenged areas of his state, where access to health and dental care is more limited.
“At a minimal level [fluoridation] will help prevent tooth decay, which is the most rampant disease next to asthma [for children],” Vitale says.
Dentists in areas that lack treated water tell patients to do their best by brushing with fluoride toothpaste, getting regular cleanings and, in the case of children, taking fluoride supplements.
And although most studies on fluoride center around its impacts on kids, Pollick says the perks of fluoridated water also apply to adults.
“We know that in fluoridated areas, adults also benefit from fluoride in the water,” he says, adding that fluoride can re-mineralize the surface of adult teeth, especially at the roots, which become more exposed with age.
“Even under the conditions of using fluoride toothpaste, fluoride in the water still has the benefit. You need both.”
*Original article online at https://nypost.com/2018/07/16/why-you-may-be-more-likely-to-get-tooth-decay-in-new-jersey/