Why do we put fluoride in our water?

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Recognized as one of the top ten great public health achievements of the 20th century by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's not often explained why water fluoridation is deemed so important for our health.

So why do all Minnesota municipal water supplies mandate fluoridation?

We asked Robert Jones, Ph.D., D.D.S., assistant professor and pediatric dentist in the University of Minnesota's School of Dentistry to help us understand:

"Fluoride basically gives you a protective coating on the tooth," said Dr. Jones. "It helps protect the enamel - the outer layer or white part of the tooth - that can dissolve from acid. This helps slow tooth decay and improves overall oral health."

Given that naturally occurring bacteria in the human mouth produce acids when exposed to bread, soda, juice and even baby formula; it's important to do something to prevent the demineralization - or breakdown - of tooth enamel.

What would happen if we stopped?

According to Jones, many people who observe the standard oral hygiene recommendations of brushing twice a day, rinsing with mouthwash, flossing and who eat a healthy, balanced diet might not notice a difference.

But those who don't have ideal oral hygiene and diet habits would likely experience significant dental decay in multiple teeth.

"It's similar to what would happen if we increased the speed limit," said Dr. Jones. "Lots of people can drive fast without a problem, but many others would get into accidents. With fluoride, like with speed limits, we're trying to help as many people as possible."

Because it's expensive to fluoridate your own water, fluoridation of city water helps keep our population's pearly-whites devoid of decay.

Photo: Flickr/Jimme/CC.

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