Surgeon General Issues Statement on Water Fluoridation

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Water fluoridation has become controversial in some communities, but the US Surgeon General says the practice is one of the nation's great public health successes.

The US Surgeon General is fighting back against criticism of community water fluoridation, calling the practice one of the most successful — and equitable – public health initiatives in the nation’s history.

In a YouTube video posted late last month (embedded below), Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, said community fluoridation is responsible for a dramatic decline in the prevalence and severity of tooth decay in the United States.

He said one of the virtues of fluoridation is that its benefits cross all socioeconomic lines.

“Water fluoridation is the best method for delivering fluoride to all members of the community regardless of age, education, income level, or access to routine dental care,” he said.

The statement comes as water fluoridation is under fire by some groups who argue the additive is unnecessary and potentially harmful. A recent controversial study suggested fluoride might be linked to hypothyroidism, and in April, the US Department of Health and Human Services lowered its recommendations for how much fluoride should be in drinking water. The new guidelines say the optimal fluoride level is 0.7 parts per million. The previous guideline was 0.7-1.2 ppm. The agency said the change was designed to reduce cases of fluorosis found in areas with higher levels of fluoride.

Still, the government says fluoride’s benefits far outweigh its risks, a position echoed by the dental industry.

In a letter thanking Murthy for his statement, American Dental Association President Carol Gomez Summerhays, DDS, and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, DMD, MPH, cited studies showing fluoridation prevents 25% of tooth decay cases in children and adults.

“The preponderance of credible scientific evidence supports the continued safety and effectiveness of community water fluoridation,” Summerhays and O’Loughlin wrote. “We are pleased to be working with you and others in the public health community to expand the practice.”

The ADA says about 75% of the US population drinks optimally fluorided water.