While we hope to educate with the information we share at The Dental Health Blog, we also like to inform. So, when we have good news to report, we like to do that too. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offers us the opportunity to do just that; examine the overall dental health of adults in the US.

Has fluoride in our water improved dental health in adults?

It can be very confusing for the average person when issues of science and health become politicized, such as water fluoridation has become. The efficacy of placing fluoride in the national water supply should be an objective, scientific question, where we examine the consequences of the policy rather than continuing to argue the policy itself. After all, the policy is in place, and has been for decades. With this in mind, the question then becomes, “Is it working?” The short answer is, “Yes!”

While it is true that some 90% of adults aged 20-64 have experienced tooth decay in their lifetimes, this by no means indicates the failure of the fluoridation policy. On the contrary, the report offers strong evidence that the policy has had many beneficial effects on the population at large.

Here are a couple of the most positive conclusions from the CDC report, which was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey:

  • Endentulism – the complete loss of teeth in adults, has declined by 19% in the last decade or so. The 2011-12 data revealed that only 18.6% of Americans ages 65 and older had lost all of their natural teeth, as opposed to 22.9% from 2005-2008 data.
  • Dental Caries – or tooth decay, has declined significantly among adults in the past half-century. In the 1960s, the average number of teeth affected by decay among adults was 18. The latest data indicate that the average adult now has just 10 teeth affected by decay – a 44% reduction in dental caries among adults in less than 50 years.

Unfortunately, the politicization of scientific and medical issues has, to a large extent, prevented a fact-based discussion of too many of these subjects. To accurately evaluate the impact of our water fluoridation policy requires that we compare the most recent data with previous data; information that was gathered in an era when large portions of the country were not receiving fluoridated water.

When this is done using the scientific method just described, it becomes fairly obvious that placing fluoride in the water supply, along with widespread use of fluoridated toothpaste, has had a positive effect on adult dental health in the US.

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