Scientists first began noticing the effects of fluoride on teeth in the early 1900s when a Colorado dentist discovered that some of his patients had very few cavities and it was traced to a water supply naturally high in fluoride. Fluorides are chemical compounds that occur naturally in both soil and water. In the 1930s, studies found that one part per million—roughly one droplet in a bathtub full of water—would prevent cavities without causing mottled enamel. In January 1945, the City of Grand Rapids was the first community to add fluoride to a public water supply.
Between 1945 and today, data on fluoridated water has shown there is a significant reduction in cavities. Studies have shown that fluoridated water strengthens children’s teeth as they form and repairs early stages of decay. In adults, it prevents root cavities. For over five decades, the American Dental Association has continuously endorsed the fluoridation of community water supplies and the use of fluoride-containing products as safe and effective measures for preventing tooth decay. Community water fluoridation remains the model for dental disease prevention, saving Americans billions of dollars and untold suffering every year.
Additionally, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the State agency that regulates the Grand Rapids Water System, and the American Water Works Association advocate the addition of fluoride in public drinking water systems.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states, “Community water fluoridation is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay, and has been identified by the CDC as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.” Additionally, the past five Surgeons General have supported community water fluoridation and encouraged communities to fluoridate their water.
Community water fluoridation is the process of adjusting the natural fluoride concentration of a community’s water supply to a level that is best for the prevention of dental cavities. Grand Rapids water source from Lake Michigan has a natural fluoride level that generally varies from 0.1 to 0.2 parts per million. Fluoride is added in the treatment process to bring the level up to .70 part per million, which is within the optimal levels established by the American Dental Association for a community water supply. This level was recently lowered from 1.0 parts per million based on research and recommendations of the Dentall Association and the US Department of Health & Human Services.
A survey conducted in 2006 by the Michigan Department of Community Health revealed that Michigan third grade children attending schools in optimally fluoridated communities have significantly fewer teeth affected by cavities than those attending schools without an optimally fluoridated water supply. We agree with their assessment that water fluoridation eliminates disparities in preventing cavities across the population.
In spite of the proven benefits of fluoride in drinking water, the debate on the addition of fluoride is longstanding. Fluoride is considered a poison in large doses but toxic levels cannot be achieved by drinking fluoridated water. Scientists continue to collect data to determine the toxicity of fluoride in drinking water. The amount of fluoride added during the water treatment process is strictly regulated and closely monitored. To date, the quantitative evidence demonstrates that positive benefits of fluoridated water continue to outweigh any suggested negative impacts. As a result, be assured that our current practice of fluoridating water will continue.
The City of Grand Rapids prides itself in being in the forefront of research that is being conducted on water quality and health issues related to drinking water. As a member of the American Water Works Association Research Foundation and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, we will continue our practice of monitoring research conducted by recognized scientific organizations.
The City of Grand Rapids continues to work towards sustainability based on triple bottom line goals related to economic, environmental and social equity factors. These goals provide guidance in any policy change we may undertake.