Skip to main content

(931) 645-8000 |

Jennifer J. Cornell | DDS, FAGD
Caleb T. King | DMD

Fluoride and Dental Health

I was asked to speak to the Central Civitan on the subject of Fluoride. While I was preparing my presentation I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post. Fluoride can be a touchy subject. Right up there with the immunization controversy. Both to me, and this is my personal feelings, ask the question why would you want unnecessary pain and suffering? For 60 years public water systems have added fluoride and the big fear 60 years ago was it would put dentists out of business because it would totally knock out tooth decay. Well, dentists are still very busy thanks to acidic surgery soda, sweet tea and lazy hygiene habits. Fluoride in public water supplies has truly helped decrease the incident of tooth decay in children but for some smaller utility districts it is a cost issue and then there is the mythical controversy of health affects.

So I ask the questions:
How many of you have had a cavity?? How many of you enjoy getting that cavity repaired? How many of you have ever had a tooth die and experienced the discomfort of an abscess? How many of you have had to hold a child down while you attempt to brush their hair, tie a shoe, or even give them a dose of antibiotics? How many of you enjoy watching children suffer? I realize that is an emotional question. In the area I practice it is a more rural setting, there is no water fluoridation and has not been for about 7 years. I have noticed for the past 5 years an increase in tooth decay in children and young adults. It pains me to see this because it doesn’t have to be this way.

My focus is to present facts, not point fingers or make accusations. I want to paint a picture of the benefits of fluoride in reducing suffering. Much of the information shared below comes from the American Dental Association website which has a public awareness component that anyone can access……

What are the benefits of fluoride? It is much like adding Vit D to milk, iodine to salt, or folic acid to bread. Systemically when ingested it becomes incorporated into enamel so teeth are more resistant to decay. I can reduce decay by 60%.

Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease, 5 x more common than asthma.

The CDC considers community water fluoridation to be one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Nearly all tooth decay can be prevented when water fluoridation is combined with dental sealants and other fluoride products, such as toothpaste. Diet is also an important consideration. Regular, chronic consumption of high sugar and acidic food and drinks break down enamel and make it more susceptible to tooth decay.

So, how does fluoride work? Your mouth contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. This produces acid that can wear away the hard, outer shell of you tooth (enamel). This can lead to cavities. Fluoride protects teeth by making your teeth stronger and more resistant to acid. It no only reduces the risk of cavities, it can even help reverse early signs of decay.

Products with high concentrations of fluoride that are applied in the dental office or prescribed for home use offer additional protection for those at increased rick of tooth decay.

The use of fluoride doesn’t only benefit children; Because older Americans are now keeping their teeth longer, fluoride will continue to be important for preventing tooth decay in this age group. Older Americans are more susceptible to tooth decay because of exposed root surfaces, older dental restorations, and dry mouth issues that may result from many medications.

So what is water fluoridation? It is the addition of fluoride to adjust the natural concentration of a community’s water supply to the level recommended by the US Public Health Service for optimal dental health. This level is somewhere between 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (about 1 inch in 16 miles, or 1 cent in $10,000) Water Fluoridation started in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1945. For more than 60 years water fluoridation has helped improve the quality of life in the United States by reducing pain and suffering related to tooth decay, time lost from school and work, and money spent to restore, remove or replace decayed teeth. Fluoridation is very cost effective. The annual cost of fluoridation is $.50 per person in communities with a population over 20,000 and a little more than $3.00 per person per year in the smallest water systems. Every $1 invested in community water fluoridation saves about $38 in costs for treating tooth decay.

2/3 of the US are fluoridated. The addition of fluoride to public water systems is recommended by the AMA, ADA, CDC, NIDCR, and the US Surgeon General.

As many of you know the Clarksville city water does fluoridate their water, but the county utility districts do not. I was only able to speak to one of them, the Cunningham utility district, and they told me they stopped adding fluoride about 7 years ago. From what I remember Cumberland Heights stopped around the same time. As you recall from what I said previously it is more costly for a smaller utility district to add fluoride. There have also been misleading health safety issues brought about on the internet about fluoride causing other health issues. These claims are misleading as there is no scientific evidence supporting those claims at the fluoride levels used in community water fluoridation. For example, skeletal fluorosis, one of the adverse health conditions associated with fluoride consumption, is extremely rare in the US in spite of 60 years of water fluoridation. There have been no documented cases of rise in certain cancers that have been linked to fluoride at the levels in water systems. Any substance has the potential to be toxic. Tylenol taken in greater amounts than indicated on OTC bottles can cause coma and death. Sipping on soda all day is toxic to teeth, and your pancreas! We are talking about small levels of a substance that can decrease pain and suffering by huge amounts. Dental fluorosis can occur when too much fluoride is consumed causing white or grayish brown spots on the teeth. But the levels in public water are no where near the levels needed to cause that cosmetic issue. People who were or are raised on well water can sometimes have this appearance but it is usually due to high consumption of other minerals within the well water.

Keep a perspective; yes the addition of fluoride can be expensive for utility districts but if there was enough awareness of the benefits of fluoride in decreasing pain and suffering I believe the public would want to share in the cost. In this day and age people find a way to pay for what they want and what they see as beneficial. It is all about priorities.

As I continue to see an increase in decay in children I often get asked by parents, “how can this be?” or I get accused of just trying to profit from them, why can’t I just “watch” those teeth, they are going to lose them anyway. First, I wish to say, as a mom myself, I would never want to see a child suffer, so I am deeply hurt by someone insinuating I wish to profit from making a child suffer through a dental procedure. Second, baby teeth are there for a reason, to assist in chewing, speaking and holding space for the adult teeth that will eventually erupt. Why would I “watch” a cavity grow in a child with potential to make them hurt? I am often asked to prescribe fluoride supplements but there are other factors that go into prescribing the correct amount with diet at home, cooking and consumption of bottled water, do they attend private school and consume city water, etc. Why not take a proactive approach and begin to insist fluoride again be added to our public water? Even if it means we have to share in the small increase we may see in our water bill? Remember for every $1 invested in community water fluoridation it saves about $38 in costs for treating tooth decay. Now that is a savings I can wrap my head around!

Again, if you want more information on the benefits of fluoride please see the American Dental Association website at or you can even check out the American Association of Pediatric Dentists website at