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Water fluoridation, what is it good for?

Wednesday 6 December 2017

A little girl stands in the kitchen, a glass of water in her hand, thumbs up and a big smile on her face.
Did you know that fluoridated drinking water can affect your dental health?

Fluoridated drinking water is regarded as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century, right up there with recognising the dangers of nicotine, changing behaviours and standards around vehicular safety, and controlling the spread of infectious diseases.

There’s widespread evidence that fluoridating drinking water significantly reduces instances of dental decay within a community with minimal side-effects, and it’s a public health measure that has the support of more than 150 major health organisations, including the World Health Organisation, the Australian Medical Association, and the Australian Dental Association.

It’s safe, highly effective and economical, but what exactly does water fluoridation do for dental health?

Firstly, what is fluoride and how is it in my water?

Fluoride is a natural compound found in water, plants, rocks, soil, air and most foods. The amount of fluoride naturally occurring in water depends on the type of soil and rock through which the water travels. Where drinking water supplies contain low levels of naturally occurring fluoride, these can be supplemented to bring levels closer to the recommended amount.

The recommended levels of fluoride in drinking water for dental health are roughly 1 milligram of fluoride per litre of water. To understand the scale we’re working with, imagine 1 cent in a $1,000 bank account, or travelling 1 centimetre in a kilometre-long journey. In Queensland lower levels of fluoride are used (0.6 - 0.8 milligrams per litre) as we tend to drink more water than other places, due to our warm climate.

It’s a small addition to an everyday substance, but the proportional benefits to public health are huge.

So why is fluoride good for your oral health?

Good oral health is an important part of maintaining overall health. Water fluoridation can improve the general public’s overall oral health by reducing rates of tooth decay.

Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in our mouths create acid, which happens almost every time we eat or drink acidic drinks, such as soft drink, fruit juice or sports drinks. The acid draws minerals out of tooth enamel, the outside coating which protects our teeth. If the enamel isn’t repaired and breaks down, then the tooth can become decayed.

Fluoride in water can help teeth be more resistant to decay and can even stop early decay. Fluoride works by helping to stop the bacteria in our mouths from producing the acid that causes enamel breakdown and tooth decay. Receiving small amounts of fluoride throughout the day helps teeth stay healthy.

If you’re interested in reading evidence-based research about water fluoridation, we’ve compiled a list of scientific resources which address the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation, as well as a list of ‘Frequently asked questions’ with easy-to-read information. More information is also available on the National Health and Medical Research Council’s website.

A graphic of a small tooth encountering water which reads: When you eat, mouth bacteria creates acid, drawing minerals out of tooth enamel, and making your teeth weak. Fluoride replaces the lost minerals, and repairs the tooth enamel, keeping your teeth healthy and strong.

What else can I do to keep my teeth healthy?

In addition to drinking fluoridated water, follow the steps below for good oral health:

  • brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • floss your teeth daily
  • reduce your intake of sugary foods and drinks
  • have regular dental check-ups
  • and wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports.
Last updated: 18 December 2017