Happy 70th Anniversary, Water Fluoridation!

Happy Anniversary, Water Fluoridation!

Happy anniversary to water fluoridation – otherwise known as dental disease prevention in the tap!

On January 25, 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city in the world to fluoridate its community water supply.  The innovative move to combat tooth decay stemmed from more than 35 years of collaborative research, planning and outreach among dental and medical providers, chemists, engineers, health researchers, local governments and passionate community advocates.  The impact was transformative.  Just 15 years later in 1960, Grand Rapids experienced a 60 percent decrease in dental caries (or “cavities”) among school children – astounding results.

Today, over 204 million Americans benefit from water fluoridation projects.  Fluoridation is touted as one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for its impact on dental disease.  The success of water fluoridation relies upon technology and engineering, sound science and support of myriad professions, associations and individuals.  Despite significant evidence-based research demonstrating the benefits and safety of water fluoridation, fluoridation sometimes comes under scrutiny; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that panels of experts from different health and scientific fields across several continents have provided strong evidence that water fluoridation is safe and effective.

The pioneering approach to add fluoride to drinking water strengthens its impact by making individuals’ default decisions healthy.  Through water fluoridation, individuals can access tremendous public health benefits without spending extra money, changing their routines or changing their behaviors.  And, it impacts individuals of all ages; fluoridation prevents decay on exposed root surfaces of teeth and reduces tooth decay by about 25 percent over a person’s lifetime.  Additionally, research has shown fluoridation to be perhaps the most effective return-on-investment of any public health strategy – for most cities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.

We don’t want to consider the state of oral health in Virginia and across the U.S. without fluoridation. As the country approaches the 70th anniversary of one of the foremost public health achievements in recent history, I wonder what will become the next great advancement in public health.

Dental disease is linked to heart disease, diabetes and preterm birth, and causes over one million lost school hours in Virginia each year.  The barriers that prevent Virginians from obtaining routine dental care are complex; improving access to care will require interdisciplinary collaboration among dentistry, medicine, academia, public health, legislature and other community partners.

For more information on water fluoridation in Virginia, visit our fluoride Resources

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Sarah Bedard Holland