Day 10: Fluoride

Fluroide is a mineral often dispensed in water supplies to promote healthier teeth and oral hygiene.  Although it is known to prevent cavities, excessive fluoride can cause spots to form on teeth, and in high concentrations it can break down calcium deposits in the body, weakening bones and has the potential to cause osteoporosis.  The EPA guidelines sets the maximum allowable concentration of Fluoride at 4 parts per million, while the WHO guidelines is 1.5 parts per million.


Although fluoride is not terribly common in drinking water, it was observed in the 1850’s that people in areas with drinking water that naturally contained fluoride had much healthier teeth and far less incidences of cavities.  By 1933 it was commonly accepted that moderate levels of fluoride can prevent cavities – and that a fluoride concentration of 1 part per million in water presented no significant adverse health effects.  In 1945, the water supply in Grand Rapids Michigan was fluoridized in a controlled experiment which demonstrated significant reductions in tooth decay, and by 1951 fluoridation became an official policy of the US Public Health Service.  Although these developments have been celebrated as one of the great victories of public health in the 20th century, in recent years there has been increasing debate over the safety of fluoridized water, which cite the spotting of teeth that can occur from high concentrations, potential bone deterioration, and the byproducts that can occur when fluoride comes into contact with other potential contaminants in water supplies.  It remains unclear what the outcome of these debates will be, however some treatment facilities are preemptively making efforts to keep fluoride levels well below the EPA permitted 4ppm.


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